The Sound Of Breaking Glass
Photographs by Dawn Long
The play focuses on the Marland family and covers the years from 1908 to 1921. Reggie, the husband, is a banker and Emma, his wife, runs the household and spends her time doing volunteer work and catching up on her embroidery. Emma’s old school friend Kitty, a paid-up member of the Suffragette movement, inspires her to think about her life: is her cosy, pampered existence really enough for her? She is lured to a Suffragette demonstration at Hyde Park by her spirited housemaid Maisie. She is impressed by the bravery of women who, she now sees, are as normal as herself. Some of them are even married! She decides to join the cause and starts off in a reasonably safe way selling Votes for Women newspapers. Strident and confident she most certainly is not. But she begins to get the hang of dealing with heckling from passers by – partly due to the help of Ethel, a down to earth and witty lady who has joined the cause about the same time as Emma. Emma’s daughter Lucy has the shock of her life when she inadvertently comes across her mother selling the magazines; she is nonetheless delighted.
Emma begins to get a little more daring and joins fellow Suffragettes in breaking Government windows – in a very funny scene in which the women pretend to be a Church choir.
Meanwhile, Reggie is unsurprisingly both disbelieving and furious. He is also angry that his authority is flouted on a daily basis. He spends more and more time at his Club. If rumours (spread by the monstrous Lady Clegthorne) are correct, he finds a little consolation elsewhere...
Emma becomes militant. Her capacity for spin bowling (discovered at school) now gets a new airing. The First Act closes with her arrest as she once again goes on a window-breaking spree.
Act Two opens with Ethel and Emma in prison. Emma takes protest to its logical conclusion and decides to go on hunger strike. Reggie visits her in prison in a tender scene in which he shows without doubt that he still loves Emma but is frustrated and distressed by his incapacity to do anything at all to alleviate the situation.Emma is freed. The situation becomes much darker when Emily Davison throws herself under the King’s Horse at the Derby in 1913.
The shock at this death becomes intertwined with grief and suffering with the onset of World War I. William, the beloved son of Emma and Reggie, is killed in action.A similar fate befalls Lucy’s fiancé. The once proud and virile Reggie has a breakdown. Emma becomes a nurse but can do little to alleviate Reggie’s depression. Light begins to dawn when Maisie, now married, produces a son and asks Reggie to be a sort of pretend grandfather for the boy. Reggie cheers up as he begins to think of golf and motor cars and teaching the young boy to play cricket. He and Emma begin to get back their sexual intimacy - but on a new and more equal basis. The play ends with daughter Lucy announcing that she intends to become one of the first women MPs.