Wellesley Night at the Old Vic... with the Class of ’62!
In September 2018 the Club hosted a very special event: a night at the theater with members of the Class of ’62, who were visiting London for a mini-reunion.
Before seeing Sylvia — a hip hop musical celebrating the life of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst — more than 40 alums and guests gathered at a restaurant around the corner from the Old Vic for a welcome event featuring drinks, nibbles, and conversation.
Nibbles and networking with the Class of '62
And then, the play! Sylvia arrived at the Old Vic 100 years after the first women in Britain were granted the vote. Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar with original music by Josh Cohen and DJ Walde, Sylvia is a modern musical that explores Sylvia Pankhurst's pivotal role in the campaign for women’s rights and the price of the passion and politics that tore her family apart.
Although one could argue that at three hours the play was over-long, the performances were exceptional, with some unexpected humor; the dancing was electrifying; and the lyrics had special poignancy at a time of #MeToo revelations and Supreme Court selection hearings.
The cast of Sylvia with London's mayor, Sadiq Khan
Also in the audience that night: Sadiq Khan, London's mayor (in fact, he sat a few seats down from some of our group). The Old Vic has shared a picture of the cast with the mayor (above). They also provided some background on the Old Vic itself, and on the relevance of this production:
“The Old Vic is 200 this year.
Its survival is due, in large part, to the leadership of two exceptional women:
Emma Cons, who ran the theatre from 1880, and then Lilian Baylis from 1912.
They created companies driven by a passionate belief in entertainment harnessed with a social mission.”
Baylis in particular created at The Old Vic some of the most exciting work and companies that now sit as part of the established cultural landscape in the UK. Sadlers Wells, English National Opera, English National Ballet and the National Theatre all began life here at this theatre during her time at the helm.
It therefore felt natural for the theatre to want to strongly mark and be part of celebrating 100 years of [some] women gaining the vote this year.
Kate Prince, the Artistic Director of ZooNation, and director of this show, is one The Old Vic’s Associate Artists. Her idea to tell the story of SYLVIA, one of the Pankhurst daughters, felt like the perfect commission for 2018.
It is an exceptional production with a hugely talented cast. However, it is worth giving you some background to what you will see tonight.
SYLVIA was originally commissioned a year ago as a dance theatre piece.
Since that point, it has evolved into a full-blown through-sung musical, a positive but significant change that happened relatively late in its development period.
Despite phenomenal efforts, given the schedule we had set before we knew the ambition of the piece, together with unexpected illness in the cast, the theatre decided to re-define the production of SYLVIA as a work in progress rather than a complete production.
The exciting thing for you, the audience, is that you are seeing a work in development that is at the start of its life and which The Old Vic has phenomenal potential. I hope you’ll enjoy it!"
Although the play has now closed, if you'd like to get a sense of the music and dance, please watch this clip of some cast members performing at the March4Women: https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2018/sylvia-2 - event-media-gallery Case perform at March4Women
-Contributed by Audrey Mandela ’80