Praise all round follows Knebworth premiere of new play about stately home’s stalwart suffragette

Congratulations to the company: pictured after the premiere are Hilary Spiers of Stevenage Arts Guil

Congratulations to the company: pictured after the premiere are Hilary Spiers of Stevenage Arts Guild, Mayor of Stevenage Sherma Batson, musical accompanist Ben Ward, actor Emma Spurling, director Jenny Culank, author Ros Connelly and historian Katherine Connelly. - Credit: Archant

The applause rang out long and loud as actress Emma Spearing took her bows at Knebworth House.

Lady Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Lytton - Credit: Archant

She had just completed the first of two performances of Lady Connie And The Suffragettes, a new play commissioned by Stevenage Arts Guild and Mayor of Stevenage Sherma Batson to mark Interational Women’s Day.

The play was based on the life of Lady Constance Lytton, a leading light in the battle for women’s suffrage 100 years ago and a noted ancestor of the Lytton Cobbold family which still lives at Knebworth today.

Sharing the plaudits were author Ros Connelly, director Jenny Culank, musical accompanist Ben Ward, musical arranger Oonagh Bernon, lighting designer Graham Dorner and Katherine Connelly, the author’s daughter, who gave a brief talk before the play to set the drama in its historical context.

Lord Cobbold, who was among those invited to the premiere, said: “I would like to extend my thanks and congratulations to Hilary Spiers of Stevenage Arts Guild and Ros Connelly for their work in bringing the portrayal of my ancestor Lady Constance to the stage.

“Through Emma Spearing’s fine performance, we were given a very real insight into Lady Constance’s world and her personal contribution to the struggles for the women’s vote.

“My thanks go to the Mayor of Stevenage Councillor Sherma Batson for her efforts in bringing this fine piece of writing into being, with a fitting premiere on International Women’s Day.

Most Read

“I’m sure Lady Constance would have been delighted, and also moved, that her work continues to this day.

“I am delighted that the play will be performed for Stevenage school children and hopefully for more audiences in years to come.”

The play also got the thumbs up from Marie Mulvey-Roberts, an associate professor in English Literature at the University of the West of England, Bristol, who said: “The celebration of International Women’s Day had a very special local significance this year in commemorating the heroism of Lady Constance with the world premiere of Ros Connelly’s superb one-woman play, Lady Connie and the Suffragettes.

“Emily Spearing carried off this demanding role powerfully and the final prison scene was particularly moving.

“Many members of the audience were wearing the Suffragette ribbon of purple, green and white in solidarity.

“We were all reminded of the enormity of the sacrifice made by members of the suffrage movement to enable women to vote.

“There is surely no better way of saying thank you to them than by putting a cross on a ballot paper at the next general election.”

Between the two performances members of the Cobbold family were joined by civic leaders and other invited guests at the nearby St Mary’s Church, which is Lady Connie’s last resting place.

A brief tribute service was led by the Rev Jim Pye, and former Stevenage MP Barbara Follett and Henry Lytton Cobbold both reflected on Lady Connie’s life and contribution to the struggle to achieve votes for women.

Talented Stevenage cellist Lydia Dobson played the first movement of a work by the composer Dame Ethel Smyth, whose March Of The Women became the anthem of the suffragette movement.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter