The true events of Canada’s most daring suffragist, Gert Harding.
Gert Harding, from rural New Brunswick, has just arrived in London, England, as companion to her sister Nellie, married to the wealthy Dr Ernest Waterhouse. Nellie is like a mother to Gert.
Gert, atop a double-decker
bus, witnesses her first poster parade of militant suffragettes, demanding the right of women to vote. Her older companion, Bessie, explains about the movement then reveals the pin she got from the WSPU, the militant organization, when she was released from Holloway Prison after breaking windows for the cause. Gert’s worldview turns on end.
Gert, now a member of the
suffragettes, is about to take part in her first poster parade. Lilian Lenton, parade organizer, treats her with disdain, assuming that the well-dressed new recruit is in it for shallow excitement, like so many. Gert defends her intentions. But as Lilian regales her with details of prison rats and lice and government torture by forced-feeding, Gert’s nerve falters. Still, she picks up her heavy poster and goes off to join the parade.
Gert returns home from the
parade covered in rotten fruit. She tries to sneak in but can’t get past Nellie, who is shocked and scared by Gert’s admission. They know too well what Ernest will do. Soon in walks the man, triggering the argument and showdown Gert had hoped to avoid. Gert defends militancy but adds that many members, herself included, do not themselves enact the violence to property, serving in other ways.
He says that she must quit this loathsome group anyway, or she will be banished. Nellie, furious at Gert for risking so much, agrees with the demand. Gert says simply that she must remain a suffragette. As Nellie stomps out, hiding her fear, she tells Gert that if, after one month, Gert still agrees to not enact violence, she’ll be allowed to visit them, her only family this side of the Atlantic.
Gert’s next assignment is
to stand guard for Lillian Lenton, assigned to attack rare orchids at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. As Gert and Lilian await the right moment for Lilian to break into the orchid house, they debate the ethics of violence for a cause. Gert’s love for her sister tugs at her to stay on the sidelines tonight. What she can’t ignore is the growing urge, hot as fire, to help change society, to push out the edge of civilization to embrace women as human beings. With Gert standing guard, Lillian bashes in the door of the hothouse and disappears. Soon
an orchid flies out to land at Gert’s feet. As Gert listens to the sounds of
destruction from the hothouse, she slowly picks up the orchid, tucks it in her hair then strides in to join Lilian.
The first draft was accepted into Theatre New Brunswick’s New Voices program, 2013. This included dramaturgy from Mieko Ouchi and Tessa Mendell and input from Caleb Marshall and Len Falkenstein.
A public reading during NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival as part of the TNB Extras Reading Series. A staged reading, TNB Studio. Fredericton, NB. Both 2013.