Michele's Blog

Michele's Blog (8)

Thursday, 01 February 2018 12:09

Suffragettes! 100 Years

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This weekend I'm taking a trip to London to visit the Museum of London who are marking 100 years of (partial) suffrage for Women in the UK 'Votes for Women' . There's obviously a lot of interest on this topic at the moment and recently I did an interview with Melanie Campbell from Radio Solent who is doing an article to broadcast in the near future on Suffragettes of the south coast. I'll let you know when it goes to Air.

In many ways it's a very emotive subject and recent 'outings,' #metoo campaigns and equal pay issues heighten those feelings. They underline the neccessity to never get complacent on issues of gender, equality and oppression.

But there's even more to it for me, as in 2010/11 I worked with some of my lovely friends and colleagues to create a one woman playlet exploring the life of Minnie Baldock. Minnie retired to Poole after sharing platforms with the Pankhursts and having been imprisoned for the cause. Colin and I were researching for another project at the Poole History Centre, part of what used to be the medieval Wool House on Poole Quay. He was flicking through one of the many books on Poole's history there, when suddenly he sidled up to me and said: "I've found our Suffragette!" I had for a long time wanted to look at the suffrage movement in Poole and there she was - one Minnie Baldock! There's a video of the piece here: The Right to Vote Michele O'Brien

I ended up visiting the Museum of London where Minnie's artefacts were held in her own box. Can you imagine the emotions I felt as I was able to touch and read her personal letters to John her son - "to be brave", while his mother was in prison, the most touching and loving words of appreciation to her husband Hal, and letters from upper class patrons inviting Minnie to tea, so that they could hear the voice of the working class woman!

"Together with local MP, Kier Hardie, Minnie held a public meeting in 1903, to complain about low pay for women in the Canning Town area. She was also involved in the West Ham Unemployed Fund and in 1905 became an Independent Labour Party candidate in the election for the West Ham Board of Guardians (the body that oversaw the local administration of the Poor Law and workhouse, and whose elections were open to female voters). She joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) later that year and became active in heckling prominent political figures in public meeting halls across London".

"On 26 January 1906, Minnie Baldock established a branch of the WSPU (known commonly as the Suffragettes) in Canning Town, in an attempt to recruit working class members to the cause. By September that year, open-air Suffragette public meetings were being held in Upton Park (see extract form Stratford Express, 28 Sept 1906)". 

I'm chuffed to see that Forest Gate have referenced our video that was made in Scaplen's Court Museum kitchen and there's lots of information on Minnie here: E7 Now and Then

Minnie retired to Lake Road, Hamworthy where they let people camp on their land. It is now land that has the Hamworthy Labour Party Club on it.

I love this photograph of Minnie as a young woman in 1909 and contrasting the wise atmosphere of the later photographs. As part of the project I got to meet Minnie's Granddaughter who still lives in the area and still remembers making apple pies with Minnie (of course they were featured in lovely Kate O'Malley's writing!).

Written by Kate O'Malley.

Directed by Deborah Aita.

Costume by Georgie Lang-Jones.

With thanks to Calling the Shots, the Museum of London and Poole Museum.

So you can see why this year means so much to me and I will be interested to see how the Museum of London interprets material for their family day this Saturday (3 February).

"Shout! Shout! Up with your song,

Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking!"

Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!

Verse 2

Long, long—we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong—stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these—beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.

Verse 3

Comrades—ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned—nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail—victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!

Verse 4

Life, strife—those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on—that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march—many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.

I've been working with actor and collaborator Tam Gilbert, Jenny Gordon and Alastair Nesbitt recently. Using Hellen Keller as a starting to explore visually-impaired women in Dorset, then and now!  Researching with source material at the incredibleresource that is Dorset History Centre in Dorchester, we've then taken students from Victoria Education College there and this week delivered some of our findings to a group of students who are home educated at the Priesthouse Museum in Wimborne.

Tam has written a grea piece for the disabityarts online blog and you can read about it here:




I took a visit to one of my favourite places today-Poole Museum-as I was invited to the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the women of Poole old and new. I was very please to see one of my longest standing characters Granny Cousins celebrated and her actual bonnet and lantern, donated by her family after she died. I've known this incredible woman for 20 years now and it is my delight to take groups around the nooks and crannies of Old Town Poole telling tales-she never fails to entertain and inspire. Caroline Jane Cousins (nee Bartlett) had such a sad and hard life. She was forced into the workhouse having left her home in Moreton near Wareham, then experiencing domestic violence and her son's accident on the railway that left him disabled.

Equally as inspirational, was to see Minnie Baldock who retired to Hamworthy in Poole after an incredible life in the Suffragette movement. Minnie shared platforms with the Pankhurts and other eminant women and spent time in prison for the cause with all the horrendous practices that were evident in Edwardian Britain penal system. I loved researching and creating a 40 minute piece with writer Kate O'Malley. There was so much personal material to work with and I'll never forget the moment I opened a box at the Museum of London to find her personal letters. Heart rending letters to her son, explaining why she had to go away; to husband Hal telling him to tay strong; and letters received from Upper Class patrons of the Suffrage cause, who wanted her to attend afternoon teas to represent the working classes.

Later I even met with her Granddaughter who could just remember making apple pies with Minnie her and Hal's home on Lake Road, Hamworthy.

Check out my Storytelling page for a short video of the piece 'Right to Vote' made with Poole Museum at http://www.micheleobrien.co.uk/suffragette-minnie-baldock.html and if you're looking for someone to make your centenary event to mark 'some' women getting the vote, get in touch!

Here's to Minnie and Granny Cousins and all those strong, inspirational women associated with Poole.

Friday, 05 January 2018 15:49

Nelken Line in Bournemouth

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At the end of 2017 I had the pleasure to team up with Filmaker and Dance lover Lizzie Sykes Nelken Line by Pina Bausch film by Lizzie Sykes 
the simplistic repetition of movements of the 'Nelken Line' really had a unifying effect on the assembled group of lovelies from around Bournemouth who gathered at Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth one bright, breezy and exhilerating Saturday morning in November. An international invitation is extended to anyone wanting to take part and you can visit the Pina Bausch Foundation website at: Nelken Line: Pina Bausch Foundation
Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 09.15.39
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 10:02

Rehearsals Week 2

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Working hard to bring the show together.

Feeling a little overwhelmed.

The responses to the monkey survey https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CTMVB53 are very powerful and allow me to tell our story too. Thank you!

Trying to find honesty and truth in every word.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 13:11

Mother and Daughter: I'm Glad I Asked

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As the busy-ness of Summer fades among the shadows start to lengthen, it's great to know that the 'Mother and Daughter' project will be working towards its performance stage during the next month and a half. I've enjoyed swimming in the sea a lot in recent weeks with various friends and family and tots learning for themselves how to jump waves and cope with mouthfuls of refreshing salty water!!!!!!!!

My Mum's been able to join us on many of these occasions and she's enjoyed being by the seaside once again in the latest snap of warm weather.

On Monday I take the lovely drive to Bridport for two weeks of devising, exploring and rehearsing with Director Katherina Radeva, using the material we have all created together at the Lyric Theatre (Niki McCretton). It's not often that I get the chance to indulge my great love for the craft of theatre and have time to interact with other theatre practitioners in this way. It's a great 'value added' to the Arts Council grant that I've been allocated-not a luxury I hasten to add, but an important part in creating quality pieces of Art.

With a deadline of 10 October and its first performance at the Shelley Theatre, Boscombe as part of the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival http://artsbythesea.co.uk/event/mother-and-daughter-im-glad-i-asked-by-associate-artist-michele-obrien/  we will be focused in our creativity, warm ups, technical planning and depictions. And it feels really good (if not a little daunting!) to be in this place, this wonderful space-as we say: "Right here, right now!'

Last night I had the privilege of listening to the first draft of a music piece I have asked my brother Mark O'Brien (professional musician with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) to create. I like the thought of drawing him in to interpret the 'Mother and Daughter' theme with the dear Mum Gina that we share. He had just finished the whirlwind premier at Symphony Hall Birmingham on Friday night with the CBSO's new Director Mirga Gražinyt?-Tyla and then her debut appearance at the BBC Prom No.55 (Royal Albert Hall). If you didn't get to hear this you can find it at: http://bbc.in/2bOqwHS he and his partner seemed very animated when they arrived, exhausted, on Sunday and its always great to talk music,art and family late into the night.

Denise Poote will be concentrating on exhibiting material and photographs as well as Twitter and Facebook updates. It's been a great joy to work so closely with Denise and we seem to compliment each others artistry and skills well. She's a great encouragement and very good hugger.

So, there's a lot to do before hitting the road on Monday and where I'm going to have time to pack I'll never know! There's only the small matter of a newly comissioned piece telling tales of Corfe Castle in Norman Times from the National Trust (Saturday/Sunday 3-4 September), we have horse manure to collect and herbs to harvest, costumes to create and a medieval chorus to crack with Colin Phillimore as my sidekick - an aspirant Jongleur-it'll keep our feet firmly on the ground ad in the muck!

I hope to be able to provide regular updates through this Blog so look out for posts and don't forget to book your tickets for 'Mothers and Daughters'!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 16:07

Mother and Daughter Project

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Mother and DaughterI am organising workshops where we will open up discussions between mothers and daughters about their lives reflecting on the past and offer an opportunity to have a photographic portrait taken with visual artist Denise Poote. 

These recorded discussions and photos will preserve a moment between generations of women, at this point in the 21st Century.  This rich resource will be developed into a performance called "I'm Glad I asked" by Michele O'Brien at Shelley Theatre in October as part of Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival

I would really love to work with diverse groups to represent all the women and their experiences in Poole.  We have organised two workshops already which will be held on: 

Wednesday 11th May 2016 at Hamworthy Library at 3-4.30  

Friday 13th May 2016 at Rossmore Library 11-12.30 


Could I ask please for your help by:

 -        Asking you to promote these to your community contacts and to your colleagues

-        Letting me know if you would like to attend a workshop – if you can bring a Daughter 16+ or a Mother to meet us all the better.

-        If you are a community group or know of one and would like to host/organise a workshop with me please contact me on 07977969080 or 01202732270.  I would like to talk to you about how best to arrange it to meet the needs of your mothers and daughters.

Thanks in advance for your help.