Rhondda Rips It Up! review – bawdy celebration of a suffragette lioness

The Riverfront, Newport
Welsh National Opera’s boisterous music hall-style show romps through the improbable life of women’s rights pioneer Viscountess Rhondda

Welsh National Opera’s new touring cabaret opera marks the centenary of votes for property-owning British women over 30 by celebrating the pioneering Margaret Mackworth, Viscountess Rhondda, hitherto unsung Welsh hero of the suffragette movement.

Survivor of the Lusitania sinking, jailed for bombing a postbox, founder and life-time editor of the magazine Time and Tide, persistent campaigner to take her seat in the House of Lords who abandoned her fox-hunting husband for her lesbian lover, Lady Rhondda’s story clearly offers sufficient threads for a ripping yarn. The music-hall formula adopted by librettist Emma Jenkins and composer Elena Langer was relaxed enough to create an entertaining, often comic rather than overly earnest evening, while getting historical and political points across. Liberal use of sexual innuendo in the dialogue and some contemporary lyrics (Harry Roy’s My Girl’s Pussy, no less) mischievously underlined the “don’t think they weren’t aware” factor.

As befits the subject matter, WNO also ripped up the rulebook. The defiantly all-female cast and production team was directed by Caroline Clegg, with Nicola Rose conducting a 10-piece band whose lineup included accordion, tuba and drumkit, the latter recreating torpedoes hitting the Lusitania. Langer’s music neatly and wittily accommodated the many styles required, from pomp to romp to rabble-rousing rally songs, with the community chorus – playing the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union – joining in from the stalls. The wonderful Madeleine Shaw brought Lady Rhondda vividly to life, while Lesley Garrett’s MC donned her male-impersonating disguises with typical panache.

Contributor

Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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