When I first started performing the role of Sylvia Pankhurst in SYLVIA (see the photo above), I was – er – much younger! It was nearly 30 years ago. At the time I imagined the performance taking place soon after women had got the vote, since that is where the play ends. Sylvia would have been in her mid-30s, and I had a costume which reflected the earlier suffragette period. It was a William Morris style, and I had leather lace-up boots like the ones the suffragettes wore. I also had a brown wig – my own hair was red and curly, so it looked nothing like Sylvia’s. Once the wig was on, I felt transformed!
I remember a performance at York Art Gallery where I had to change in a stock room, and the door was locked, so I came back to ask for the key, having already taken the wig off revealing my hair. I wore it very long to play Constance Markievicz in REBELS AND FRIENDS. The audience saw me just as William was offering to answer questions, and one Yorkshire lady spoke up immediately: "Yes, ah've got a question. 'Ow does she get all that hair under that wig?" (Answer - with great difficulty!)
But now! I am fatter and 30 years older, but then Sylvia also got older and fatter, and so the show has needed a new style of performance and a new look. In the pictures of Sylvia when she was in her sixties, I saw that she wore the ‘coat and skirt’ or suit which I recognised elderly ladies wore in the 40s and 50s. We needed a new costume!
Sylvia also wore her straight and now grey hair in a short bob. My hair has not turned grey and is still curly, so we needed a new wig. But it seems that all the grey wigs available on the internet are either smart modern cuts or ‘scary’ wigs for parties.
Well, we have solved all the problems for this new tour – and locally!
Where we thought we would have to go to a city to find a theatrical costumers, we found The Sewing Room in our own Norfolk town, Downham Market, instead. There, Karen Clarke has made a lovely coat and skirt similar to the ones Sylvia wears in the photographs. Talking to Karen when we collected the costume, we found that she trained as a fashion designer, but she had really wanted to work on theatre costumes, so we are very pleased that she has had the chance to do this for us.
Earlier, we had got a very handsome pair of brogues at Smiths Footwear in Downham Market, which go brilliantly with the coat and skirt.
Lester of John Lester Hair Design, also in – you guessed it – Downham Market, has found us a wig and given us a session on how to de-glamorise it to be more 1950s in style. It is a short wig, and so William has even more work making sure that the real hair is concealed under it.
I won’t tell you more – come along and see what the new 'old'-look SYLVIA looks like.