AS campaigning ideas go, it was perhaps never the best; but nonetheless, on a summer day in July 1914, two dedicated women’s rights campaigners, Ethel Moorhead and Frances Parker, set out from Glasgow on the long bicycle ride to Alloway in Ayrshire, with the idea of using explosives to set fire to Burns’s Cottage.
Causeway | Rating *** | Oran Mor, Glasgow
They wanted to protest not against Burns, so it’s said, but against the war-mongering patriarchy that, in the weeks before the First World War, was using the poet’s words to drum up patriotic sentiment. However, the point was probably too subtle for the world of gesture politics – and anyway, the pair were caught by a watchman at Alloway. One fled, but the other was arrested, and brutalised by the criminal justice system.
So far, so historical – this is the strange tale that underpins Victoria Bianchi’s Causeway, the left-field Burns’ Night story that opened the spring Play, Pie And Pint season at Oran Mor on Monday.
The play itself – about the imagined growing friendship between senior suffrage campaigner Frances and a young version of Ethel – has its ups and downs, particularly in some glaring anachronisms of both speech and manner, and its overbearingly cheesy musical backing tape. Yet Beth Marshall and Stephanie McGregor turn in delightful performances as Frances and Ethel, passionate, funny and thoughtful; and the questions Bianchi’s play raises about oppression, the fight for freedom, and the limits of proper radical action to change an unjust world, remain as topical now as they were in that ominous summer, 102 years ago.