A scene from Shrew

 Edge Hill University’s feminist theatre collective The Pankhurst Players, affectionately known as ‘The Panks’, are set to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

After only forming a year ago, the collective of 13 students and three alumni will perform Shrew, their modern take on the classic Shakespearean play. Student Rebecca Cummings, said:

“Edinburgh Fringe was the dream from the very beginning and I’m so proud that we have this opportunity to represent Edge Hill Drama, and follow Naughty Corner Productions, a company formed by University alumni who’ve performed at the festival.”

Shrew is the Panks’ second production after their debut revival of the Elizabeth Robbin’s suffragette play, Votes for Women! performed in 2018 to mark the centenary founding of the Actress Franchise League. Rebecca said:

“The Taming of the Shrew is a really contentious play. We see a woman being given away by her father in marriage to a stranger. This man then beats and starves her until she learns to do and think whatever he tells her.

“It’s supposed to be a comedy but Emma Heron (Senior Lecturer in Drama and Artistic Director of Mrs Pankhurst’s Players) wanted to create an adaptation focused on the modern themes of forced marriage, trafficking and domestic violence.”

She added:

“Shakespeare presents actors with great challenges that really help you to develop your skills. As a feminist collective, though, that can make it difficult for us to see his relevance to us. When we first read the adaption, the actors were really surprised to hear those lines, see Kate’s treatment and still believe that it was funny for a woman to be abused in this way.

“Because Shakespeare is a great cultural icon, his work is often accepted as is. We wanted to challenge that by taking one of his most famous plays and adapting it to tell the story we see in the text.”

The Pankhurst Players was founded in 2018 by Emma Heron with support from the Pankhurst Trust. Emma said:

“I wanted to create the type of theatre collective that I would have liked to join when I was an emerging theatre maker. I founded Mrs Pankhurst’s Players against the backdrop of #MeToo and ERA 50:50 because I wanted to give students the opportunity to create high quality, politically engaged theatre in a supportive environment where female students could gain real-world experience undertaking leadership roles.”

With most decisions discussed and agreed over tea and cake, the collective offers students and alumni the chance to explore in depth a range of roles in theatre such as acting, marketing, design, directing etc.

First year Drama student Kate Carey, who has a flair for art and design, is the designer for Shrew, responsible for the ‘look’ of the production, encompassing everything from costumes and make-up to props and set. She said:

“Our adaption of the play sets the action in a nightclub run by gangsters, so I took inspiration from the gangsters and molls of Chicago to create a strong look for our Drag Kings and the family. My key inspiration was the mafia wives. They were strong and ruled their families, contrasting to the usual archetype of women at the time.”

Shrew will preview at Greater Manchester Fringe on July 27th at Salford Arts Theatre before performing at theSpaceTriplex venue at the Edinburgh Fringe between 12-24th August. Tickets are on sale now at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/shrew