The London Library is delighted to bring back Between Two Fires, the lost play by Sylvia Pankhurst, exclusively to The London Library Reading Room from Thursday 9 – Sunday 12 May 2024 for its second ever showing – now with newly discovered material and an accompanying programme of talks.

First performed last year to a sold-out audience at The London Library Lit Fest, the play will return for a limited run and its second performance in history in the Library’s famous Reading Room. For the new material, this will be the first time the words will be spoken aloud to an audience.

Imprisoned for sedition in the infamous HMP Holloway in 1920/21, Sylvia Pankhurst wrote a play. In solitary confinement, with a contraband pencil on prison issue toilet paper, the legendary suffragette and socialist activist composed a dramatisation of her experiences within the political movements that would go on to bring vital social and political change, from her own grassroots activism to the top-level political conflict being played out by her beloved Keir Hardie – Labour's founding leader. Nearly a hundred years later, Pankhurst's biographer Rachel Holmes discovered the play via painstaking analysis of the delicate fragments jumbled into brown envelopes in the depths of an archive.

Directed by Roxana Silbert, produced by Amy Powell Yeates, with a cast yet to be announced, this limited run of performances will be followed each evening by different discussions and talks inspired by and in response to the play. The talks programme includes Labour MP for Rhondda and parliamentary historian Chris Bryant, activist and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst, and film director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette).

Open to all, The London Library has been a world-class centre of creativity and inspiration for readers, writers and thinkers for over 180 years. The Library has had a long and enduring association with the Pankhurst family. Sylvia’s father Richard and older sister Christabel were both prominent members, along with many other figures from the Suffragette and Suffragist movements.

Director of The London Library, Philip Marshall, commented: “we are thrilled to be able to bring Between Two Fires back to The London Library Reading Room. Many of the Pankhurst family, including Sylvia’s older sister, Christabel, and her father, Richard, were prominent members of Library, along with many other figures from the women’s suffrage movement. So, it is fitting that the play should be performed at the Library once again.”

Roxana Silbert, Director, commented: “Architecturally The London Library is really beautiful. Being surrounded by these incredible books is just wonderful. Directing a play about two people who were inspired by ideas and who had such a long relationship with the Library has been a real privilege.”

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Thursday 9 May, 7pm: Labour MP for Rhondda and parliamentary historian Chris Bryant speaks to Rachel Holmes about how to make change in politics, the history of the Labour Party and his work uncovering the stories of activism and injustices around sexuality and gender in Britain, including in his new book James and John, about the last men to be hanged for homosexuality in Britain.

Friday 10 May, 7pm: Film director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette), Sylvia Pankhurst's biographer Rachel Holmes and London Library Archivist Nathalie Belkin, speak to Claire Berliner about archives and what gets lost within them, unearthing the hidden stories of women in history and the project of bringing those stories to light on page, stage and screen.

Saturday 11 May, 7pm: Activist and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst, and human rights lawyer and campaigner, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, speak to Rachel Holmes about the legacy and relevance of Sylvia Pankhurst's life, work and activism in today's contested and troubled times.

Sunday 12 May, 3pm: Playwrights April de Angelis and Chris Thorpe speak to Rachel Holmes about political theatre, how they and others have responded to the political climate and whether theatre has the power to make change. This will be followed by an EWP Scratch Night at 6pm, showcasing political playwriting from former and current participants in The London Library Emerging Writers Programme.

Performances begin at 7pm on Thursday 9 May, Friday 10 May and Saturday 11 May and at 3pm on Sunday 12 May. Performances will run for an hour and will be immediately followed by a 45-minute talk. Doors (and the bar) open 30 minutes before each performance. 

Tickets cost £20 standard, £18 London Library members, £15 under 30s, £12.50 London Library members under 30s and can be purchased here. All proceeds go towards supporting The London Library.  

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Supported using funding from Fondation Jan Michalski

Books by contributors are available to buy from our partner bookshop Hatchards and will be available at the Library during each event.