About the show

This is the story of Dame Ethel Smyth, composer, writer and activist. The audience is introduced to her music, her life, and her indomitable spirit, told in her own words and compositions, in a flowing fusion of drama and music.

Ethel Smyth fought throughout her life, to get her work performed and recognized. She was very clear that her main obstacle, was her sex. Smyth was the living embodiment of the courage and passion with which Victorian women challenged the “male machine”.  As an activist, she joined the Suffragette movement, taught Emmeline Pankhurst to throw stones and was imprisoned for militant action in Holloway.  As a composer, she wrote the anthem for the suffrage movement ‘The March of the Women’ as well as composing 6 operas, a Mass and many sonata’s, quartets and song cycles.  Smyth was the first female composer to be made a Dame for her contribution to music.  The first female composer to have an opera at Covent Garden ROH 1902 (The next was 2012).  The first female composer to have an opera at The Met NY 1903 (the next was 2016).  She studied music in Leipzig and associated with among others, Clara Schumann, the Griegs, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Brahms.   As a writer, she published 10 books (8 autobiographical).

Ethel Smyth: Grasp The Nettle tells her story using her own words, taken from her autobiographies and letters, this gives an authenticity to the performance and immediately places Ethel in her time, her thoughts, opinions, passions and music.  Pianist, Elizabeth Marcus, underscores the spoken text with Smyth’s music which often leads to a sung passage, and seamlessly into the next scene.

Ethel Smyth: Grasp the Nettle has toured throughout the UK and to Florence, Italy, receiving standing ovations at Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, The Speakers House in The House of Commons and The London School of Economics and numerous curtain calls at The English Music Festival, The St Marylebone Festival, Hitchin Festival, Sandstone Ridge Festival. Tours of Cornwall, Cambridge, Cumbria and Northumberland.

Ethel was overlooked, even ridiculed, in her lifetime.   Ethel Smyth: Grasp The Nettle celebrates the indomitable spirit of this extraordinary talented English woman.


  • Two 42 minute acts with an interval. A 1 hour version without an interval, is also an option.
  • Minimum playing space of 3m x 4m.
  • A tuned piano. We tour a keyboard if a piano is not available.
  • Basic lighting and access to standard mains electricity is required. We will provide all other equipment including a minimal set, sound, costume and props.
  • 2 people touring. Lucy Stevens (Ethel Smyth) and Elizabeth Marcus (Musical Director / Accompanist)

Availability and Fees

Contact Penny Mayes, producer, to check availability, discuss fees and make bookings email penny@dramatic-solutions.co.uk UK mobile +44 7790 456169