The centenary year of the death of Emily Wilding Davison has sparked myriad responses, from the analytical (documentary Clare Balding’s Secrets of a Suffragette) to the sharply comical (Jessica Hynes’ sitcom Up The Women), but most of all it has invited us to take stock as a society. The Finborough’s welcome revival of Pam Gems’ 1976 feminist classic proves brilliantly pertinent to that discussion, both because her astute observations are still striking and because many of the play’s issues remain glaringly unresolved.
“We all know that there has been a backlash against feminism,” writes Gems in the foreword to her revised 1992 version. “Times move on, a new generation takes for granted freedoms wrested for them by their parents.” Eleven years later, many still have mixed feelings about ‘the F word’, although individual issues have proved effective rallying cries – the Page 3 debate, Wendy Davis, John Inverdale’s comments about Marion Bartoli – and writers like Caitlin Moran have worked hard to rebrand feminism as sensible, witty, necessary, universal.
Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi is similarly wily, balancing thought-provoking debate with heartfelt, relatable drama. The four women of the title have little in common apart from a shared London flat, and their minor skirmishes, invasions of privacy and moments of intimacy will be familiar to anyone who has shared living space. However, Gems has also cleverly constructed a neat microcosm of society, with a range of classes, ages and attitudes, which allows her to dramatise discussions like the gulf between theory and action or the balance of political and personal.