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Suffragette play is just the beginning for Preston's buzzing arts scene

Preston's art scene is on the up
Preston's art scene is on the up
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She’s Preston’s most famous suffragette and a remarkable story in a city becoming a flourishing hub for creativity, theatre and art.

Now Edith Rigby’s story is being told across the UK buy a homegrown theatre company spreading the word about the city in a production attracting rave reviews.


There’s just one problem - the Strand Road-based Certain Curtain theatre company can’t find anywhere to perform right here in Preston.

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Director Claire Moore is one of the biggest of many advocates for the city’s arts scene which is going from strength but is frustrated that her show, Woman on Fire, can’t find anywhere to be staged.


It has performed across the UK including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival but has yet to be shown here at all.


Claire Moore said: “The story of Edith Rigby remains largely unsung.


“She is best known for burning down Lord Leverhulme’s house in Rivington – but she was a woman of firsts.


“She was the first woman, in Preston, to ride a bicycle – in bloomers!


“She founded one of the first branches of The Women’s Social and Political Union and devoted her life to improving the lives of girls and women.


“She was shunned by neighbours but her fiery spirit was not easily dampened.

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“Her story and the wider suffragette struggle is one worth sharing.


“Preston is not only Edith’s home town but its ours and is the perfect place to celebrate her and our achievements.


“We have been producing original award winning drama since 1989 and fly the flag for Preston across the UK and beyond. Woman on Fire has been performed in Scotland London, Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Northumberland - people are delighted an inspired by Edith’s story and I’m sure the People of Preston will be too!”


Woman on Fire recounts the turbulent life and times of Edith, A mild-mannered doctor’s wife, with a secret identity as arsonist, bomber and jujitsu-trained militant suffragette.
Jailed six times she went on hunger strike to the point of starvation.


Then when released, she went toe-to-toe in ferocious pitched battles with the police.


Written and directed by John Woudberg and performed by Claire the play presents both sides of this eccentric woman.


But in her attempts at bringing the play to Preston, Claire says she has faced an uphill struggle.


She told the Post that despite being based in the city for 29 years the theatre company has received very little support to host Woman on Fire from organisations on home turf.


She said: “We are flying the flag for Preston, we’ve been touring in Scotland and London.


“Individual people are getting in touch with us asking when are you playing in Preston.


“Its a particularly good year to do something about Edith as its the centenary of women winning the right to vote.


“It’s very difficult to make the play viable when we can only get a small number of people to host it.


“Our project has been very successful, we are getting standing ovations.


“We got a four star review from The Scotsman.


“We’ve got an excellent reputation everywhere but Preston doesn’t seem to be interested.


“We are carrying out fantastic work, touring it up and down the country. We are an untouched asset, people should be in getting in touch with us to host us. For a company like ours to be producing what we do and not to be getting support from our own council is very disappointing.”


Councillor Peter Kelly, cabinet member for culture and leisure, at Preston City Council said options were being looked at.


He said:: “The Certain Curtain piece is being considered as part of Preston’s Women’s vote centenary anniversary programme taking place later in the year.


“The growing arts and culture scene in Preston is something the council has been supportive of for a number of years.


“An essential part of city living, a vibrant creative offer is an attraction for artists and visitors alike.


“We work with a number of organisations – in the city, the county and across the north west – to support and deliver a wide range of opportunities for artists and performers to get involved with.


“The upcoming Lancashire Encounter three-day festival in September will celebrate the breadth of the county’s diverse cultural offer with high quality activities and performances, plus opportunities for community groups to also take part.”

As the summer got underway an arts collective launched 100 days of creative events in Preston in a bid to transform the city into a major cultural centre.