Rock opera is a bloody good show

By Alice Cowdrey

That Bloody Woman by Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper.
That Bloody Woman by Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper.

That Bloody Woman is a moving and brutal tale of Kate Sheppard, delivering hilarity, wit and sadness in equal parts.
The show rests on actress Esther Stephens' rendition of Christchurch suffragette, activist and cyclist Kate Sheppard and her successful battle to win the vote for women in 1893. Stephens present Sheppard as an intelligent, fiesty, gutsy and righteous "man hating menstruater" in a performance which couldn't be faulted.
"All we want is what you take for granted - nothing more, nothing less," she proclaims during her fight against patriarchy.
Surrounded by her girl gang ensemble and live band, Stephens takes on public opinion and arrogant Prime Minister Richard "King Dick" Seddon during the full throttle show which was delivered on a small stage at the Crystal Palace as part of the Taranaki Arts Festival.
The show is musical, with an edgy punk/rock aesthetic highlighting how outrageous the suffragettes views were in such a stifled and male dominated society.
Stephens portrayal of Kate Sheppard can't be faulted, her singing is incredible and non-stop dialogue witty, engaging, righteous, funny and emotional.
The show stealer however, was Phoebe Hurst whose beautifully robust voice yet tender voice filled many diverse roles within the show.
Tracking Sheppard's life story, each part of her journey is delivered through an array of incredible songs that are worthy of their own soundtrack. The songs cover a range of genres - from hard-hitting punk rock, to 80s pop, gospel, blues and folk. The songs were so catchy you will find yourself singing them days later in the shower. It's a love story as well, hilariously portraying Sheppard's wedding to dim accountant Walter, with the hilarious priest (played perfectly by Hurst) belting out the wedding vows in gospel style: "it's your duty to give up your booty for colonial reproduction".
Kate goes on to have a son called Douglas who she loved dearly.

The mundane monotony of domestic life was not for Sheppard, however, and she finds herself attending a Woman's Christian Temperance Union meeting where American Temperance missionary Mary Clement Leavitt speaks. The meeting was a "revelation and a wake up call" for Sheppard who felt like the missionary was speaking directly to her.
"It felt like God was watching, listening, waiting to see what I would do."
Barely getting to stop for a breath, Stephens goes on to rally against alcohol, declaring that it makes good people do bad things and tears families apart. The battle is highlighted by a poignant song Quarter Acre Dream which is brimming with emotion and sung beautifully by Hurst who is portraying Ada Wells, a woman being abused by her drunken husband. The song is raw - highlighting the terrible cost of what happens if Sheppard doesn't win the fight.
It's not long until the large figure of Prime Minister Richard " King Dick" Seddon looms on stage, decked out in a gold bling "Dick" necklace and fox fur scarf. Portraying a sifty, crass and demeaning man, Seddon proclaims that there won't be a "petticoat Government" and struts about the Crystal Palace throwing his pig-headed weight around.

The show leaves the viewer informed, blown away by the musical ability of the cast and reaching for a few tissues. The show also questions how far we have come as a nation and highlights the fact that feminist issues remain.

The show is equal parts hilarity and sadness with one of the more emotionally charged scenes including Sheppard proclaiming her love for her best friend's husband and seeing her beloved son being taken back to England with his father where he later dies. This was a turning point for Kate who nearly gave up the fight but was determined to win the vote and change the course of history.
The show leaves the viewer informed, blown away by the musical ability of the cast and reaching for a few tissues. The show also questions how far we have come as a nation and highlights the fact that feminist issues remain.
As Sheppard concludes: "there's more to be done. I won't tell you what to do or what to read or think or say - there's already too many people doing that today. "So, be yourself whatever the risk and think before you do because the story isn't up to me - it's up to you.'

- Stratford Press

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