A Good Cause by Marsali Taylor

Characters

JANIE SANDISON, aged 15 - a servant
MAG SANDISON, her mother
SANDY SANDISON, her father
JAMES SANDISON, her older brother
MAISIE SANDISON, her older sister
WILLIE SANDISON, her middle brother
JESSIE STEPHENS, servant and militant member of the WSPU
MRS DONALDSON, Janie's mistress
Members of the suffrage movement - in groups of four girls
NEWHAVEN FISHWIFE [or equivalent local female worker of the time], a Working
Woman's Delegate
In cafe:
MRS THORNTON
MISS CAMPBELL
MISS FRASER
ETHEL MOORHEAD
MRS MACAULAY
Waxworks: MR ASQUITH, MR CHURCHILL, POLICEMAN, EMMELINE
PANKHURST
In prison:
JUDGE
WARDRESSES
At War:
MABEL STOBART
DR INGLIS
SIR FREDERICK TREVES
KITCHENER
GRACE ASHLEY SMITH
CHORUS OF WOMEN

Suggested doubling for a smaller cast of nine 6F, 3M:
JANIE SANDISON
MAG SANDISON, her mother + MRS THORNTON, MABEL STOBART
SANDY SANDISON, her father + CHURCHILL, MR FRASER
JAMES SANDISON, her brother + ASQUITH, SIR FREDERICK TREVES
MAISIE SANDISON, her sister+ GIRL 2, NEWHAVEN FISHWIFE, MRS MACAULAY
WILLIE SANDISON, her brother + POLICEMAN, JUDGE, KITCHENER
JESSIE STEPHENS + GIRL 1, WARDRESS, GRACE ASHLEY SMITH
MRS DONALDSON + GIRL 3,
GIRL 4 + EMMELINE PANKHURST, MISS CAMPBELL, WARDRESS, DR INGLIS
With a cast of only 9 some of the other named women, such as in the cafe scene, would have to have their lines allocated to Mrs Donaldson, Miss Campbell, Mrs Macaulay and Mrs Thornton.

The running time is approximately 40 minutes.

Note: though the play is set in Scotland and some incidents are from the Scottish suffragette movement, it is not hard to set in England, with minimal changes.

The play traces the history of the suffragette movement as it affects Janie Sandison. Janie leaves home to become a maid for a woman who supports the suffragettes. Already a fervent admirer of the movement, she joins and starts by selling magazines to support the cause. Then she is persuaded into militancy, against her inclination; she is concerned that no person should be hurt. In the event, after her first really militant action she is arrested, imprisoned and force-fed. Her health is broken by this and she returns to her family. When World War One breaks out, she becomes an ambulance-driver at the front. At the end of the War, she celebrates what the women have won but ends with the understanding that there is still a long way to go - the fight has just begun.

Against the background of Janie's journey, we see how her opinions affect her family. Father and one brother - Willie - are supportive of her; James, the other brother is not, though he is shaken by the brutality of force-feeding. Mag is shocked by Janie's outspokenness and feels women should know their place, in the home and with the family. Her sister Maisie comes over to her side when the War breaks out, signing up to become a nurse at the front.

The play could be done as an exam piece - with a very busy and alert cast, doubling as suggested above. However, it would have even more impact with a larger cast.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

THE GIRLS are onstage in silhouette wearing suffragette rosettes and badges, carrying hammers. Big Ben is visible in the background.

GIRL 1
The thought of breaking big shop windows scared me. I was trembling from head to foot as I stood at Barkers' window waiting for eleven to strike. Sound of Big Ben striking. The women raise their hammers, looking at each other apprehensively.

GIRL 2
Feeling sick, I banged a window with my hammer.
The sound of breaking glass over continuing chimes.

GIRL 3
People stared.

GIRL 1
I banged another, breaking it thoroughly.
Sound of breaking glass.

GIRL 4
People fled. I was seized by two policemen and marched off.
Blowing of police whistles, shouts, etc. Policemen arresting women - not gently. [For pared down cast version - single policeman runs on and arrests Girl 4. Other women can either behave as if they too are being manhandled - in time with Girl 4, or run off.]</p>

Lights dim to blackout.

SCENE 2: January 1910.

Lights up on a working man's house. Mag is laying the table for the evening meal. There is a letter propped up in the centre of the table. She stops as she hears footsteps, the front door shutting, and picks up the letter. Janie enters.

MAG
Your letter's come.

JANIE
Oh - [She takes it from her mother, opens and reads.] I've got it! They're offering me the job!

MAG
Well then.

JANIE reads
'Kitchen maid to the household.'

MAG
Though what's wrong with this house, that your father and I work to make comfortable for you...

JANIE
Ma, there's nothing wrong with home. I just want to see the world.

MAG
Seeing the world's for men.

JANIE
Why? Why should it be just for them?

MAG
When you have a family of your own, you'll understand.
Footsteps at the door. Mag immediately busies herself about the table. Sandy, James and Willie come in. They're in working clothes.

JANIE
Dad, Dad, I've got the job!

SANDY
Well, well, that's good news.

JANIE
They want me to start right away.

WILLIE
Well done, Janie. That must've been a good letter you wrote them. [He goes to wash.]

JAMES
That's fine, Janie. Ma, isn't tea ready?

JANIE
Maisie's not home yet.

MAG
Never mind your sister, come and help. [To the men.] Sit down, then. Willie returns, wiping his face. The men sit down. Janie and Mag serve out the food. The men are just about to sit down when Maisie comes in, flustered.

MAISIE
We had a customer just as we were closing. I had to get every blessed hat in the shop down for her.

MAG
Your father's about to ask the Lord's blessing.
Maisie is hastily silent. The women stand behind their chairs, ready to refill the men's plates, bring up cups of tea, etc. They won't sit for their meal until the tea and biscuits are on the table.

SANDY
Some have meat and cannot eat, and some have none that want it, But we have meat, and we can eat, and so the Lord be thanked.

ALL
Amen.

JAMES
So, Janie, that'll put an end to you running after those suffragettes.

MAG
And a good thing too. You'll have more work to do than you've had here, my girl.

JANIE
I know.

WILLIE
Now, Ma, Janie does her share.

MAISIE
Those suffragette women aren't for the likes of us to mix with. A lot of gentry that never did a hand's turn in their lives. Like that one that kept me waiting just now. She didn't have to worry about going home and making tea, not her.

JANIE
Miss Brown isn't like that.

MAISIE
That's exactly it. You call her Miss Brown, but does she call you Miss Sandison?

JANIE
No, but -

MAISIE
And who else is in the Society with her? No, don't tell me. The Mayor's wife and the daughter of the last Mayor, and a handful of teachers from the school, and the lawyer's sister.

JANIE
Who else has the time to fight for rights for us all? Not you, nor Mam.

MAG
I've more sense. Why would I want a vote? What do I know about politics? Nothing, nor do I want to. I've a house to run.

JAMES
And Maisie wants a husband. This society of Janie's is nothing but a parcel of old maids.

WILLIE
I think it'd be a good thing if women were to get the vote. There's a lot wrong with the way we live, and it's women bear the weight of it.

JANIE
It's justice we should have the vote.

JAMES
Well, you needn't look to me to bail you out of prison if you go joining the window breakers.

MAG
Yes, my girl, you just keep your head down and attend to your work. And don't give your new mistress any of this nonsense.

SANDY
Mag! [She stills.] Mag, you know full well our Janie has the brains of two, and if we had more money then I'd have liked to see her a teacher. Her Society - well - right enough it's the posh folk that run it, but there's no reason under heaven why men in prison and fools and bankrupts should have a vote and you, Maisie and Janie not have any.

JAMES
Women don't have the brains to organise things. How could they take part in politics?

SANDY
Boy, your mother's organised this house for thirty years now, and it's not fallen down around us yet.

MAG
The house is what women are fitted for. Interfering with government's a different thing entirely.

JAMES
How could women understand the importance of the Empire? And if you give them the vote, the next thing we'll hear of is women MPs. How could you trust women to send men off to war?

JANIE
New Zealand's not in ruins yet, and they've had women voting there for fifteen years now.

WILLIE
If women had the vote, there'd be more said about housing conditions and why so many children die.

JAMES to Janie
And you'll need to keep your mouth shut until you know what the other servants think of this women question.

MAG
I think she'll keep it closed all together, and get on with her work. The men are now finishing eating. They rise. Sandy pauses by Janie.

SANDY
You'll do what you think is right, Janie.

JANIE
I will indeed.

SANDY
I wouldn't like to think of my girl being manhandled by the police.

JANIE
Don't you fret about that. All the same, I'll maybe get to one or two of the rallies.

SANDY
Write and tell us all about them.

Lights fade to blackout.

Extract 2

SCENE 6 CENSUS NIGHT, 1911

A number of women, including Jessie, are gathered in a cafe. Several are standing still as 'waxworks': Mrs Pankhurst with a WSPU placard, a Policeman, Asquith with his top hat, Winston Churchill with his cigar. As each new person following arrives, there's a cheer and laughter.

MRS THORNTON arriving
One less for the Government to count.

ALL ON STAGE EXCEPT 'WAXWORKS'
No vote, no census return!

MRS MACAULAY
My husband's not happy about me staying out all night.

ALL ON STAGE
No representation for women, no information from women! Janie and her mistress, Mrs Donaldson, enter

MRS DONALDSON
This is a good turnout. Put our coats in the the cloakroom, Janie.

ALL
No vote, no census return!

MRS DONALDSON
No return home till midday. Goodness knows how my better half will manage - but I left him the cook. Laughter. Some of the better-dressed women rise to greet Mrs Donaldson and they go to inspect the waxworks. Janie brings the coats downstage then goes to join Jessie in the servants' corner down right.

MRS DONALDSON
Mr Asquith, I presume.
And the waxworks come to life.

MR ASQUITH deep voice
No time for Bills. No votes for women.

MRS DONALDSON
No information from women.

MRS PANKHURST
At him, ladies!
Others take up mock charge tableaus.

MR ASQUITH
Constable, arrest that virago.
Mrs Pankhurst and other women give a mock-outraged 'Oooh' at 'virago.'

MR ASQUITH
That hyena in petticoats.
Louder 'Ooooh'.

MR ASQUITH
Do your duty, man, for the country.
The Policeman bops Mr Asquith. Cheers and applause.

WINSTON CHURCHILL
Good evening, ladies and hyenas. I am Winston Churchill, Home Secretary, in charge of the behaviour of the police.

POLICEMAN very Cockney
Beg pardon, sir.

WINSTON CHURCHILL
Yes, Constable?

POLICEMAN
These here hyenas, sir. Is that a kind of dog?
Cries of 'Careful!' from the women.

POLICEMAN
Only, sir, I'm not very fond of dogs. Especially not when they're a set of -
More cries of mock outrage and 'Careful!'

POLICEMAN
- lady dogs, sir.

WINSTON CHURCHILL
Do your duty, Constable. Arrest them all! Policeman looks round.

POLICEMAN
What, all of them, sir?

MR ASQUITH
I order you to charge these women, man.

POLICEMAN
Ain't brought my hoss, sir. Beg leave to retire, sir.
Cheers, applause.

MISS CAMPBELL jumping up
Ethel Moorhead!

MRS THORNTON
Three cheers for Miss Moorhead!

MRS FRASER
Hip hip -
Cheers.

ETHEL MOORHEAD
Mr Churchill, I have to tell you - you're a bad egg.

WINSTON CHURCHILL
Madam!

ETHEL MOORHEAD
And here's another!
She aims and throws imaginary egg, which hits him on the forehead. He mimes wiping it off. Cheers, a court curtsey from Ethel.

JANIE awed, to Jessie
She didn't really, did she?

JESSIE
Yes, she did.

YOUNG WOMAN - the smallest cast member, sneaks up behind Churchill and says 'Boo!' Churchill faints. Young Woman does 'I killed this lion' pose, waving WFL flag.
As the waxworks are getting themselves back to frozen poses as at the beginning of the scene:

MRS DONALDSON
Listen to this! ...

Extract 3

KITCHENER & MEN
Men of Britain, your country needs you.

SOME WOMEN
Pit lasses.

OTHER WOMEN
Shipbuilders.

MEN horrified
What?

WOMEN
Shipbuilders, riveters, painters, welders.

ASQUITH
This session of Parliament, in recognition of their work for the nation, the Government will introduce a Bill enfranchising women over the age of thirty-five.

WOMEN firmly
Thirty.

ASQUITH
Over the age of thirty.

ALL announce
1917.
Janie and Maisie lying on different parts of the stage, writing.

JANIE
Dear Mum, The Lord knows if this'll ever get to you. We've just been caught up in a retreat. Now we're back at Galatz and I've been on duty for four weeks solid -no time for horse rides with handsome Russian officers now!

MAISIE
I'm not going even to try to describe the injuries we've seen. Men with missing limbs. Men with their faces half blown off. Gas injuries. We've run out of penicillin. We have to pick maggots out of the wounds with tweezers.

JANIE
Roads? There are no roads. I take fifteen men each run, bumping them over fields and between trees, knowing how much each jolt hurts. I unload them at the hospital, then go back for another load.

MAISIE & JANIE
Are Dad and the boys still safe?

JANIE
Is there any sign of it all ending?

KITCHENER
Women must take the place of men on the land so that the men can be spared to fight.

GROUP OF WOMEN
Women's Land Army. Women's Forestry Corps.

KITCHENER
Women will be substituted for men wherever possible, both in France and in England, to release men now employed in clerical and other departments.

GROUP OF WOMEN
Women's Royal Navy Service. WRNS.

GROUP OF WOMEN
WRAF.

GROUP OF WOMEN
WAAC.

WOMEN
In the Services, not civilians. With the troops.

GIRL 1
Cooking.

GIRL 2
Cleaning.

GIRL 3
Clerking.

GIRL 4
Technical skills training.

WOMEN
Absolutely no mixing with the men.

KITCHENER T
hey must stay three miles behind the lines. Women could not possibly stand the strain of front-line life.

WOMEN
Night raids behind the lines.
Explosion.
We see women being blown up, slow motion. They pull themselves out of where they have landed with groans and mutters, struggle up, line up and salute audience with military precision.

WOMEN
Reporting for duty, sir.