Stapleford Granary

Event description

19 September  2019 19:30 £15 /£8 (under 16)

Ethel Smyth - Grasping the nettle

Ethel Smyth: Lucy Stevens

Pianist: Elizabeth Marcus

Producer: Penny Mayes Dramatic Solutions

House of Commons, Speaker’s House State Rooms. Oct 2018 - 

'I found it not only riveting but also very moving. You expressed so eloquently Dame Ethel’s love of life, passion for music and her active role in women’s suffrage…your attention to the text both as an actor and a singer were pitched to perfection.'  Siva Oke Managing Director SOMM Recordings

Following her hugely successful productions Kathleen Ferrier Whattalife! and Shakespeare In Song which are currently touring the UK, professional contralto and actress, Lucy Stevens has developed a new show, Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle to coincide with and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, the decisive step in the political emancipation of women in the UK getting the vote.  


Dame Ethel Smyth, the composer, writer and suffragette, was the living embodiment of the courage and passion with which Victorian women challenged the "male machine".  As an activist, she was imprisoned in Holloway Prison with Mrs Pankhurst. As a composer, she wrote the anthem for the suffrage movement ‘The March of the Women’ as well as 6 operas and many chamber, orchestral, and vocal works.  As an author she published ten books. 

Ethel Smyth: Grasp The Nettleweaves her music, songs andgreatest opera, ‘The Wreckers’, with her battle for an equal voice.It is Illuminated with anecdotes from her confidants, her letters and her own writing "…which is peculiarly beautiful and all of it rippling with life" (Maurice Baring).

In 1902 Ethel Smyth was the first female composer to have an opera performed at Covent Garden and, in 1903, she was the first female composer to have an opera performed at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  The next opera by a female composer to be performed at Covent Garden was in 2012 and at The Met in 2016.  

George Bernard Shaw wrote to her "Magnificent! It was your music that cured me for ever of the old delusion that women could not do men's work in art and other things ... Your music is more masculine than Handel's.  You scorned sugar and sentimentality and were exuberantly ferocious.  You booted Elgar contemptuously out of the way as an old woman."


"The exact worth of my music will probably not be known until naught remains of the writer but sexless dots and lines on paper...but if the sense of freedom, detachment, and serenity that floods the heart when a personal fate is swept out of the shallows and becomes part of the current of human experience; if even a modicum of this gets into an artist's work and should the ears of others, after my death, catch a faint echo of some such spirit in my music, then all is well, and more than well."   Ethel Smyth 1928



House of Commons, Speaker’s House State Rooms. Oct 2018 

"I found it not only riveting but also very moving. You expressed so eloquently Dame Ethel’s love of life, passion for music and her active role in women’s suffrage…your attention to the text both as an actor and a singer were pitched to perfection."   Siva Oke Managing Director SOMM Recordings


“Thoroughly recommend this entertaining moving and compelling show. Told in the composer’s words and brilliantly constructed and performed.”  Martin Bussey Conductor/Composer


 “Another absolute triumph!  Your combined musical skills are tremendous…an extraordinary insight into the life and music of a truly remarkable woman.  It was magical, moving and totally engrossing.”  

Nick Barnes, Chairman of The Cambridge Arts Society


“…inspired performance, captures Ethel with such a compelling mix of humour, strident determination – and integrity, intensity, vision – of a soul shot through with subtle affection. It made for a brilliantly varied evening and we loved it. The music was a revelation, large enough for a vast space and then suddenly intimate, and unexpectedly lyrical, rendered so beautifully.” Rosemary Pavey, Writer.


“Reading about Ethel Smyth and seeing the amazing performance of Lucy Stevens at Marylebone Festival (in Grasp the Nettle) I am left with the distinct impression that I was in the presence of Smyth herself. Brava.” 

Janet Gibson Convenor of the Opera all Party Parliamentary Group

Lucy Stevens 

Lucy studied voice at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama after completing a degree in acting at Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama. Singing credits; Gotterdammerung(Flosshilde) at Longborough Festival Opera, Die Fledermaus(Orlovsky) at Opera Holland Park and Oedipus Rex(Jocasta) at the ICA. Acting credits; UK premier of Bernhart’s The Ignoramus and the Maniac(Queen of the Night), The Wizard of Oz(Wicked Witch) at Liverpool Playhouse andThe House of the Spirits(Ferula) at West Yorkshire Playhouse.  New writing; Wellspring Songsby Sam Paechter (written for Lucy) Opera North New Composers' Forum;Silver Swanby Paul Clark, Clod Ensemblein the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern and the Linbury Studio, ROH; Arcaneby Paul Clark, Opera Circus at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells;Unborn in Americaby Luke Styles at the Vaults Festival; Amelia and the Mapmaker(Amelia Earhart) for 19thStep and Behind Closed Doors: Shakespeare Reimagined(Helena’s Spirit) at the Old Vic. At BAC Tom Morris directed Lucy inNewsnight The Opera(Kate Adie)by Tansy Davies.Richard Thomas’sJerry Springer the Opera(Andrea) and Tourette’s Diva(Daughter Diva)                                             

Elizabeth Marcus Pianist 

Elizabeth studied at the Guildhall School, where she won the Raymond Russell Competition for harpsichord, the Dove Memorial Prize for the years top Graduate and the Carl Meyer Memorial Prize. Elizabeth has performed at the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Floral Hall at the Royal Opera House and St. John Smith Square and appeared in concert with Alastair Miles, Janice Watson, Sally Matthews, Robert Hayward and Claire Rutter. She has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, Classic FM, BBC 2 TV, Channel 4 and French National Radio.  She has been official accompanist for the Peter Pears, the Richard Tauber and the Kathleen Ferrier competitions.  Elizabeth is a founder member of the Tzigane Piano Trio and has released a disc of the complete music for Piano Trio by Cecile Chaminade. She has also released a disc of South American songs with the tenor Luciano Botelho and recorded Ethel Smyth ‘The March of the Women’ which includes music from ‘Grasp the Nettle’.  Elizabeth works at Guildhall School as a vocal coach, staff accompanist and tutor of harpsichord and has recently been made a Fellow of Guildhall School of Music and Drama.