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Enemy within

New play tells story of WW1 peace activist framed by police spies for non-existent murder plot

A Dangerous Woman is a compelling new play by Alex Gifford that has re-fashioned the well-known story of Alice Wheeldon (1866–1919) so that this piece of radical history speaks clearly to our times. Performed in Stroud by the outstanding Gloucester Theatre Company in February, the fluid and fluent production got off to a blinding start and held our attention to its moving solitary end, with Alice singing a capella to a white dove we imagine but never see.

The story is a brutal one; Alice and her protesting family fall victim to trumped-up charges of plotting to murder the prime minister Lloyd George. Alice, her daughter Winnie and her son-in-law Alfred are all imprisoned.

At the heart of the play is the frantic response of the political establishment – right and left – to the rise of the suffrage movement, socialism. trade unionism and, perhaps above all, conscientious objection. The Wheeldon family is committed to the dread belief that the war is in the self-interest of capitalism. They believe in co-operation rather than competition, in the sisterhood of women, in co-operativism, mutualism and the achievement of an earthly paradise. Their commitment to ending class war and their hatred of the war against the working class of Germany runs through the play like lettering in Blackpool rock.

All this was enacted against an effective minimalist set using film, stills, stunning music, movement, mime, with the cast dressed effectively in muted browns and greys. I was engaged and moved throughout. As a bonus, there was a 20-minute epilogue to the play, Pacifists and Protestors, conducted by the cast, now dressed in black and speaking ‘the words of poets, pacifists, and other protestors’.

The two-part show also played in Bristol and Cheltenham.

Topics: Culture