MAIDEN Speeches, a timely play about being brave, speaking out and not giving up by York playwright, theatre maker and spoken-word slam champion Hannah Davies, will be given a work-in-progress reading at the York Theatre Royal Studio on Tuesday.

The play was conceived by York actress Barbara Marten and Davies in response to last year's community play, Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, co-produced by Pilot Theatre and the Theatre Royal.

Staged last June and July, Bridget Foreman's play told the story of York’s Suffragette branch and how they fought to win the vote, with Marten in the lead role of York Suffragette Annie Seymour Pearson.

Davies's resulting new work, Maiden Speeches, asks what has changed for women since their enfranchisement and examines the challenges that face women in politics today. In her storyline, somewhere in a small northern town a woman walks into her constituency office and asks for help. Meanwhile, in Westminster, a woman prepares to stand up and address the House.

The play is now in development with support from York Theatre Royal, produced by Tara Finney Productions in association with Davies's York company Common Ground Theatre, backed by funding from Arts Council England and no little help from York Central MP Rachael Maskell and her office.

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York actress Barbara Marten, playing York Suffragette Annie Seymour Pearson in Everything Is Possible at York Theatre Royal last summer. Picture: Anthony Robling

"I grew up in the ladette era of the Nineties and ‘Blair’s babes’, when the predominant narrative was that equality had been won and feminism was a redundant thing of the past," says Hannah. "This narrative formed me as a young woman, but as I’ve grown older and wiser, it’s clear that this is not the case. In many ways this play is my response to this.

"Working on the research has been absolutely fascinating. I’ve visited Parliament several time, and have interviewed MPs about their experience of working there. Spending time in the House of Commons watching the debates has been a real eye opener."

Maiden Speeches takes its name from the Parliamentary procedure whereby newly elected MPs address the Chamber in the House of Commons for the first time. This is normally on a topic that particularly concerns the MP and affects the lives of their constituents, and in the case of the late Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, for example, she championed the benefits of immigration, saying: "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us."

Mhairi Black, SNP MP for Paisley, the youngest member since the 17th century when first elected in 2015, outlined harrowing examples of poverty in her constituency and challenged the government cuts to housing benefit.

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, drew attention to the devastating cuts to mental health care in York and the looming closure of Bootham Park hospital. As mentioned earlier, she is a keen supporter of the Maiden Speeches project, not only speaking on a panel at the Theatre Royal launch last April, but also providing key support during the research period by arranging trips to the Houses of Parliament.

Arts Council funding enabled the Maiden Speeches team to research, develop and produce an early draft of a script that underwent a developmental workshop week in February with actors and director Eleanor Rhode, whose credits include directing the world premiere of Boudica at Shakespeare’s Globe. There now follow two work-in-progress readings, the first on Tuesday, the next in London, at The Actors' Church, St Paul's, Covent Garden, on March 20.

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York Central MP Rachael Maskell: helped Maiden Speeches project

As part of the play's development, the team have run several participatory workshops at the Theatre Royal to engage the York community, as well as working alongside Vote 100, a parliamentary project that celebrates the centenary of the enfranchisement of women – or, rather, only those aged over 30 who owned property – in 1918.

On January 30, Davies performed her spoken-word poem inspired by the Maiden Speeches project at a Vote 100 event at Westminster: What Difference Did The War Make? World War One And Votes For Women.

An arts polymath, she is an actress, playwright, director of Common Ground Theatre and latterly a slam-winning spoken word poet, the Word War Champion no less, not to mention Hammer &Tongue Nation Semi-Finalist, with Great Northern Slam and Axis Slam victories to her name too.

Among her plays is The Lumberjills, her 2016 work set in a woodland glade in Dalby Forest that told the stories of unsung heroines of the Second World War: the women who grafted in Britain's forestry trade during wartime.

Now her focus is on Maiden Speeches, a work in progress that is sure to progress further.

Maiden Speeches: a work-in-progress reading with a post-show discussion, York Theatre Royal Studio, Tuesday, 7pm; tickets are free but booking is essential on 01904 623568 or at Also at The Actors' Church, St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, March 20, 7.30pm; 0207 240 0344 or