Sat, 29 Apr 2023 19:00 - 20:30

Lit Fest: Between Two Fires - Sylvia Pankhurst's lost play (In person & online)

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 archives of the British Library. Now, for the first time, we will bring the most complete extracts of it to performance at The London Library. 

Directed by Roxana Silbert, produced by Amy Powell Yeates, with a stellar cast including Michael GouldMartina LairdFreya MavorSam Newton and Jamie Sives, this rehearsed reading will be followed by a conversation between Rachel Holmes; activist Helen Pankhurst, who is the granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst; playwright Sonali Bhattacharyya, whose work is inspired by Sylvia Pankhurst; and The London Library’s archivist Nathalie Belkin, whose research has uncovered a wealth of suffragette history intertwined with the Library’s own. Together they’ll discuss the fascinating story behind the play, the archival trail of the suffragettes, Sylvia Pankhurst and her legacy, and the striking poignancy of the play in our current political moment. 

Michael Gould (Tom Fenton/Peter Jane) is a British actor whose credits include: All Of Us, Kerry Jackson, Anna and Waves (Dorfman, National Theatre), Merchant of VeniceSwive and King Lear (Globe Theatre), The Writer (Almeida), ‘Iago’ in Othello (English Touring Theatre), Dealing With Clair (Orange Tree Theatre), The Jungle, A View From the Bridge, and Hamlet (Young Vic and on Broadway), and The Audience (Apollo Theatre). On TV: There She Goes, I am Maria and The Trial. Films include: Darkest Hour, Rogue One and Room 8.

Martina Laird (Mrs Carter/Mrs Bullen)’s stage work includes the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse. She has most recently been seen on ITV’s Unforgotten, Sky’s Dreamland and will soon be seen in the Disney live animation of The Little Mermaid.

Freya Mavor (Freda McLaird) is a bi-lingual actress working across the UK, France and America. Her film credits include Sense of an Ending, Sunshine on Leith and The Keeper, La Dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil, Cézanne et Moi and L'Empereur de Paris. Her television credits include Skins, The White Queen (BBC), New Worlds (C4), ABC Murders (BBC/Amazon) and Industry (HBO/BBC).

Sam Newton (Dick Pyke/Jack) is an actor and mover from Birmingham. Career highlights include Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (West End, UK & International Tour), Ed in Tom Wells' Big Big Sky (Hampstead), Nigel in Nigel Slater's Toast (Lowry/Traverse), Frantic Assembly's Sometimes Thinking (River Stage/Latitude) and another Ed, this time in quirky sitcom, Newark, Newark (Gold).

Jamie Sives (Noah Adamson)'s upcoming and recent TV credits include Guilt (BBC), Annika, Irvine Welsh’s Crime, Too Close (ITV), Chernobyl (HBO), Frontier (Netflix), Hard Sun, The Victim and Game of Thrones (HBO). Recent film credits include Tom Harper’s Wild Rose, The Last Manhunt, Triage, A Woman In Winter and Hallam Foe.  He received The Shooting Stars Award and various Award nominations for Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself and Guilt (BAFTA Scotland).

Roxana Silbert directs for stage, screen and audio. She works mainly on original drama. She was Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre (2019-2022); Artistic Director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre (2013-2019); Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (2009-2013); Artistic Director of Paines Plough Theatre Company (2005-2009); Literary Director at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (2001-2004); and Associate Director of the Royal Court (1998-2000). 

Amy Powell Yeates is a producer and writer. Previously she developed and produced new work for Playful Productions, collaborating with theatres including the Royal Court, Bush, Donmar Warehouse and Birmingham REP, working with creatives including Alice Birch, Clint Dyer, Hilary Mantel and Martin McDonagh. As a playwright, she was selected for the 2020/21 London Library Emerging Writers Programme and ArtHouse Jersey’s Residency in 2022. 

Nathalie Belkinis the Archivist at The London Library. She previously worked in archival institutions in New York City, including Green-Wood Cemetery and the New York City Department of Records, NYC Municipal Archives, where she worked on varied projects including processing original blueprints and plans for the construction of The Brooklyn Bridge, mayoral papers and NYPD surveillance documents. 

Sonali Bhattacharyya is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose productions include Chasing Hares (Young Vic), Two Billion Beats (Orange Tree Theatre), Megaball (National Theatre Learning), Assembly and 2066(both for Almeida Theatre), The Invisible Boy (Kiln Theatre) and White Open Spaces  (Pentabus Theatre). She has a drama series in development with Dancing Ledge Productions and an Augmented Reality project in development with Anagram. 

Rachel Holmes is the author of four biographies; The Secret Life of James Barry, The Hottentot Venus, Eleanor Marx: A Life  and  Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel. She has edited collections of political writing, published as a journalist and worked as an academic, activist and literary programmer. Between Two Fires is her second work for the stage. She co-commissioned  Sixty Six Books: 21st Century Writers Speak to the King James Bible with Josie Rourke and Chris Haydon. 

Helen Pankhurst CBE is a women's rights activist and senior advisor to CARE International, working in the UK and in Ethiopia. She is a Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, a trustee of ActionAid and the convenor of the Greater Manchester focused GM4Women 2028 and the more national Centenary Action Group. Helen is the granddaughter of Sylvia, great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, leaders of the British suffragette movement.  

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Fondation Jan Michalski

Books by all festival contributors are available to buy from our partner bookshop Hatchards.

N.B. This event will take place in person at The London Library and will be livestreamed. If you are joining us in person, please see our  Event Access and COVID Guidelines before you arrive. Doors (and the bar) open at 6.30pm with the performance starting at 7pm . The livestream will begin on YouTube from 7pm and will be available to watch live or at any time after the event, using the same link. 

If you purchase an online ticket, you will be sent a viewing link 24 hours before the event begins. If you do not receive a link, please check your junk mail or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Access all Lit Fest events online with The London Library Lit Fest Online Pass. You may also be interested in  Lit Fest: Silence in the Library, the Revolution (In person & online) or Lit Fest: Writing Politics into Fiction - Workshop with Marcel Theroux (In person)

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