War story reveals an ideological battle

Stuart returns to the festival
Stuart returns to the festival

Two remarkable sisters each bring a different perspective to the ‘war to end all wars’ in an Arundel Players presentation for the Arundel Festival.

The Players’ main Arundel Festival production will be Privates on Parade, but they are also offering the latest in their Shortcuts at the Priory series, Word War, written and directed by Stuart Smithers (until August 23, with all performances at 11am).

It’s the third Stuart has done for the Festival: “It started when I had written something and had not at that stage decided how best it might be staged. There was a suggestion that other people might write short plays for Arundel during the Festival, but there didn’t turn out to be that many. The idea wasn’t that it would just be a vehicle for me, but it kind of became me by default – though we are hoping that someone else might do it next year.

“The first one I did was Poor Visibility, a monologue with Rosey Purchase as a homeless person on the streets of Brighton. Last year was a play called Blue Yonder, which was a three-hander set in a church where the bride brings together her estranged parents.

“They both did very well. This year, as with a lot of other people, I wanted to do something on the theme of the First World War, but I wanted to take a different slant on it. I did a bit of research, and I came across the Pankhurst family that are mainly associated with the suffragette movement, but the two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel, while both ardent suffragettes, took completely-different views when it came to the war, and they remained estranged from each other until close to their deaths.

“Sylvia was a socialist, an atheist and very anti-war. Christabel was a second Adventist Christian by that stage and was very pro-war and right wing. I don’t think they would have diverged so much if it hadn’t been for the war. It was the war that intervened and interrupted the suffragette movement, and I think it was the war that sent the two sisters in completely separate directions.

“Sylvia is no-nonsense, down among the working classes trying to help them out whereas Christabel was a slightly-pious character, as far as I can tell. As far she was concerned, she was pro-war and she felt that everyone had to take the larger view on the fact that the working classes in London were suffering disproportionately. Many families that lost their man were left destitute and had to sell their belongings just to eat. We didn’t have a welfare state, but Christabel said you had to take the larger view and that if we didn’t win the war, then all of us would be worse off. She saw what was happening to the working classes as collateral damage in that sense. Sylvia’s view was that we had to win the war but we also had to help the working classes.

“Sylvia died in 1960 and Christabel a little bit before then. They remained estranged until the end of their lives. Christabel went to America for many years and was not a well woman, and possibly it was that that spurred Sylvia to contact her and to get in touch.”

Stuart’s play is an imaginary meeting between the two of them during the war: “They used to go around the country campaigning. Christabel used to hand out white feathers to young men not in uniform. She would be campaigning for the war. Sylvia was campaigning against the war and in favour of the poor. There is no evidence that they met, but the play is based on the premise that they may have bumped into each other...”

Tickets on the door.