Original music hall style show goes on tour for WNO’s summer season
New commission composed by Elena Langer with libretto by Emma Jenkins and featuring an all-female cast and creative team led by director Caroline Clegg and music director Nicola Rose
Lesley Garrett stars as Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) and Madeleine Shaw as Lady Rhondda
The show will premiere in Margaret Haig Thomas’s home town of Newport before touring Wales and England
WNO will host a symposium in Newport on the challenges faced by women in the classical music world
Tour will be accompanied by extensive programme of free community and youth projects on protest, rebellion and human rights and an ambitious digital project bringing Lady Rhondda to life through a Mixed Reality (MR) installation
The life of pioneering suffragette and business woman Margaret Haig Thomas comes to the stage this summer in a new all-female production from Welsh National Opera.
Rhondda Rips It Up! is unlike anything previously presented by WNO. Performed in a classic music hall style, with original songs inspired by the suffragette slogans, this tongue-in-cheek production takes audiences on a whirlwind tour of the inspiring activist’s mission.
Lady Rhondda, as she was known, was a suffragette who ran the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – the militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the UK founded and run by Emmeline Pankhurst.
She was a pioneering business woman and sat on the boards of several international companies in the 1920s. The founder and editor of the influential feminist magazine Time and Tide, she campaigned tirelessly for equal rights for women. She was the first female Honorary President of The Institute of Directors and was posthumously responsible for the admission of women to the House of Lords.
With 2018 the 100th anniversary of the first wave of women being legally allowed to vote, WNO’s fascinating depiction of Lady Rhondda’s life has been created by an all-female team with original score composed by Elena Langer, who worked on WNO’s premiere of Figaro Gets A Divorce and libretto by Emma Jenkins who co-wrote the libretto for WNO’s 2016 world premiere In Parenthesis and it will be performed entirely by women.
Leading the creative team are director Caroline Clegg, who has previously worked with WNO on Janáček’s From The House of the Dead; musical director Nicola Rose (who has worked with WNO as a pianist for many years) and designer Lara Booth.
Madeleine Shaw plays Lady Rhondda, and soprano Lesley Garrett will guide the audience through the story as Master of Ceremonies in a character based on real-life pioneering music hall entertainer Vesta Tilley, a female compere impersonating a male. Lesley returns to WNO after delighting audiences in The Merry Widow and in 2015’s spectacular Chorus!.
Lesley and the members of WNO’s Ladies Chorus will perform all the other roles – including male politicians Winston Churchill, Herbert Henry Asquith, and David Lloyd George as well as Margaret’s father David Alfred Thomas, first Viscount Rhondda, and her husband Sir Humphrey Mackworth (whom she divorced before entering a relationship with journalist Helen Archdale).
WNO’s Artistic Director David Pountney said: ‘We are proud to bring the life of one of Wales’s unsung heroines of the suffragette movement to the stage. Lady Rhondda was instrumental in the fight for women’s equality across 40 years of passionate campaigning and it is important that her life is celebrated. Our all-female team of talented performers and creatives have worked closely with Margaret’s biographer Angela John, and taken inspiration from songs and speeches of the suffragettes as well as the sounds of the Edwardian music hall, to create a highly original and bold new work which is a real departure for WNO.’
Rhondda Rips It Up!’s director Caroline Clegg said: ‘She was honoured to be bringing the life of Lady Rhondda to the stage: ‘Rhondda Rips It Up! is a real celebration of independent women. As well as campaigning for women’s suffrage, Margaret Haig Thomas was a pioneering business woman and a strong independent woman in her own right.’
‘We hope audiences will learn more about Lady Rhondda. It’s also a darn good show with lots of vibrant, fast-paced, funny songs and dialogue. The music captures the flavour of the Edwardian period but has a contemporary feel about it as well. The libretto is so sparkly and witty and the rhymes and Edwardian music are very poetic. Audiences are going to have a lot of fun.’
Librettist Emma Jenkins said: ‘It’s a merry romp – a thigh-slapping, ripping yarn. Rather than a traditional opera it is an Edwardian music hall style production; with lots of double entendres and risqué humour. The words of the songs are written in rhyme which gives them a great rhythm. The libretto was inspired by the words that Margaret Haig Thomas spoke. I have taken elements of her life and certain words she said and we have made it into something completely new.’
Lesley Garrett said: ‘Rhondda Rips It Up! is a great celebration of a wonderful woman. She was a pioneer; Wales’s equivalent of Emmeline Pankhurst. All women in Britain should be grateful to her. It is an honour to be a part of a work that celebrates powerful women and their inspired quest for emancipation, liberation and respect.’
Rhondda Rips it Up! Will be on stage at Malvern Theatres on Tuesday 26th June. Tickets are on sale at the Box Office 01684 892277 and online at malvern-theatres.co.uk.