Day (The 306 Trilogy): Silence and Song
by Oliver Emanuel
I knew I didn’t want to write about the Home Front as it’s been traditionally imagined. You know the propaganda posters: THESE WOMEN ARE DOING THEIR BIT. WOMEN OF BRITAIN SAY GO. As a playwright, I’m hugely suspicious of single narratives, the notion that things were this way and no other way. I always want to say ‘yes but what’s really going on…?’
Britain by 1917 was a predominantly female society. Of the 11,000 industrial workers in Glasgow 7,000 were women. The men that were around were either old or wounded or politicians. Of course, men still had all the power, made all the laws, forbidding the vote to their wives, daughters and mothers. But how was life different? What were the rules in the absence of men policing the behaviour of their women? How did it feel to be able to work and provide for your family?
I was also interested in how women spoke out. 1917 was an incredibly volatile year, right across the world, and women were finding new ways to resist. The opposite of silence is song and women sang and marched and protested as never before. Despite the terrible slaughter across the Channel, it must have been an extraordinary time full of possibility and hope.
When I started writing this play in August 2016, it felt like a history play, like a play about how people lived before rather than how they lived now. But by early 2017 (and I don’t want to draw the parallel too sharply) with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, millions of women took to the streets to proclaim and, yes, sing their resistance. As much as anything, this play is inspired by the notion that speaking out rather than staying silent is the way things change.
I’d like to pay special tribute to Janet Booth and the family of Gertrude and Harry Farr for generously sharing their story with me and allowing me to tell it.