Sistershow Revisited: Feminism in Bristol, 1973-1975
Sistershow Revisited: Feminism in Bristol, 1973-1975 collected by Deborah M. Withers
Available May 2011
Cover design by Jan Martin
Sistershow Revisited uses the antics of Bristol-based theatre group Sistershow to tell the history of feminism in Bristol from 1973-1975.
Based on the Heritage Lottery Funded exhibition of the same name, it contains photographs, archival material, original articles and commentary.
Review by Susan Croft from Unfinished Histories
The book reproduces much of the exhibition content including vivd colour photos, personal testimonies, as well as many of the surviving archive items Withers collected including hand-written lyrics, drawings for flyers, letters, ‘cyclo-styled’ leaflets: Letraset, marks of correction fluid, crossings-out and annotations, bearing evidence to the technologies – or lack of them – that were available at the time. Most importantly, as its sub-title implies, the book contextualises the performances within the larger framework of the women’s movement in Bristol, a space of fierce argument and passionate personal commitment: the Women’s Centre was the basement of activist Ellen Malos’s own house, a space where before campaigns for refuges, vulnerable women and their families would sleep on the bed in the office.
The Sistershow performances were large-scale, irreverent and whackily surreal, suggesting the influence of 1960s of happenings and multi-media. They also reflected the input of two powerful individual women, memorialized here: visual artist Jackie Thrupp who died in 1991 and Pat VT West, poet, playwright and performance artist who died in 2008. They played with gender and parodied femininity including in a Miss Women’s Liberation contest – ‘won’ by black drag queen, Sapphire. They were punk, before punk. They included songs, poetry, used tape-slide projections, music, paintings, ‘sideshows and surprises’.
Withers re-creates in as much detail as possible what survives of the texts and scenarios of each Sistershow, along with the working process that created it and the conflicts over class, parenting responsibilities or the lack of them, organisational methods, strong personalities that affected it, a familiar litany. As Withers writes, this ‘only underlines the group’s achievements more’. This is an inspiring and important account of vital era.
Susan Croft, July 2011