Winter Hill, towering over Bolton, is an iconic landmark to people in the northwest: one that in 1896 pushed thousands of activists to march to it to demand the right to roam. In a new play called Winter Hill, playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, uses the landmark to explore modern day themes about women’s political activity and to what ends should people go to to defend their community.
In 2017 the numbers of older women involved in politics is notable. The play touches on an important theme: how do you feel if you have been politically active over many decades but now feel, in the face of rampant capitalism – in this case the selling off of land on Winter Hill for a luxury hotel that will be the preserve of the rich -a sense of hopelessness about how you can ever change anything.
As five women of a book club descend on Winter Hill, two of them decide that change is only going to come if they threaten violent actions. Dolly, played superbly by Denise Black, outlines the arguments for abandoning their lifelong belief in non-violent direct action, while Vivien, a refugee from a war zone played by Souad Faress, has the technology at her fingertips, although she does not get to say much. The other women are not so sure and Beth, played with passion by Louise Jameson, challenges Dolly, throwing back at her their lifelong adherence to democracy and their sense of loyalty to each other.
For Irene, played by Cathy Tyson, it is her commitment to 30 years of being a councillor and making small improvements that is most important, even though she recognises that the Council has been deceived by the international property developers over the new hotel.
At the heart of the play is a big gap: we know what the women are against including everything from nuclear weapons to the closure of local services, but what is not made clear is any idea of what the women are for. Maybe it is a dilemma faced by many women and men today. People are looking for hope for the future; this can be seen in the flashmob nature of people turning out at women’s marches and rallies for Jeremy Corbyn. But beyond a reflex about not wanting what we are being offered by the powerful, there is little real debate about how we are going to achieve real change . And whilst these issues are touched on in the play, none of the women seem desperate enough or unhappy enough to threaten to use a bomb to blow up a symbol of everything they oppose.
Winter Hill puts at the heart of current political debate the views of women and their choices and, combined with a clever script and some brilliant acting, makes this an engaging and prescient play.
Book to see Winter Hill at Bolton Octagon until 3 June see
Read more about women activists in Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women see