SOPRANO Lesley Garrett has rejoined Welsh National Opera for a riotous romp of a tour with a new musical comedy about suffragettes visiting two Powys theatres this month.

With its all-female cast and creative team “Rhondda Rips It Up!”, the original music hall style show, will be at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon, this Saturday night, June 16; and at The Hafren, Newtown, on Friday, June 29.

Based on the life of pioneering suffragette and business woman Margaret Haig Thomas, later Lady Rhondda, Lesley Garrett will guide the audience through the story as Master of Ceremonies in a character based on real-life pioneering music hall entertainer Vesta Tilley, a female compere impersonating a male.

Lesley returns to WNO after delighting audiences in "The Merry Widow" and in 2015’s spectacular "Chorus!"

Madeleine Shaw, most recently seen in Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen for WNO, plays Lady Rhondda, while Lesley and the members of WNO’s Ladies Chorus perform all the other roles – including male politicians Winston Churchill, Herbert Henry Asquith, and David Lloyd George as well as Margaret’s father David Alfred Thomas, first Viscount Rhondda, and her husband Sir Humphrey Mackworth (whom she divorced before entering a relationship with journalist Helen Archdale).

“Rhondda Rips It Up!” is unlike anything previously presented by WNO. Performed in a classic music hall style, with original songs inspired by the suffragette slogans, this tongue-in-cheek production takes audiences on a whirlwind tour of the inspiring activist’s mission.

Lady Rhondda was a suffragette who ran the Newport branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) – the militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the UK founded and run by Emmeline Pankhurst.

She was a pioneering business woman and sat on the boards of several international companies in the 1920s. The founder and editor of the influential feminist magazine Time and Tide, she campaigned tirelessly for equal rights for women. She was the first female Honorary President of The Institute of Directors and was posthumously responsible for the admission of women to the House of Lords.

With 2018 the 100th anniversary of the first wave of women being legally allowed to vote, WNO’s fascinating depiction of Lady Rhondda’s life has been created by an all-female team with original score composed by Elena Langer, who worked on WNO’s premiere of Figaro Gets A Divorce and libretto by Emma Jenkins who co-wrote the libretto for WNO’s 2016 world premiere In Parenthesis and it will be performed entirely by women.

The new commission is composed is by Elena Langer with libretto by Emma Jenkins and featuring an all-female cast and creative team led by director Caroline Clegg and music director Nicola Rose

It premiered in Margaret Haig Thomas’s home town of Newport before touring Wales and England, from intimate performances at smaller venues like Brecon and Newtown to two nights at London’s Hackney Empire, a prestigious venue that elegantly and authentically represents the era in which the show is set.

Tour will be accompanied by extensive programme of free community and youth projects on protest, rebellion and human rights and an ambitious digital project bringing Lady Rhondda to life through a Mixed Reality (MR) installation

Lesley Garrett said: “Rhondda Rips It Up! is a great celebration of a wonderful woman. She was a pioneer; Wales’s equivalent of Emmeline Pankhurst. All women in Britain should be grateful to her. It is an honour to be a part of a work that celebrates powerful women and their inspired quest for emancipation, liberation and respect.”

Librettist Emma Jenkins said: “It’s a merry romp – a thigh-slapping, ripping yarn. Rather than a traditional opera it is an Edwardian music hall style production; with lots of double entendres and risqué humour. The words of the songs are written in rhyme which gives them a great rhythm. The libretto was inspired by the words that Margaret Haig Thomas spoke. I have taken elements of her life and certain words she said and we have made it into something completely new.”

Tickets for Saturday’s Brecon performance cost £18 from the box office on 01874 611622, and tickets for Newtown cane be had from its box office on 01686 614555.

PIC 1: Madeleine Shaw as Lady Rhondda with the WNO Ladies Chorus.

PIC 2: Lesley Garrett as the Emcee in “Rhondda Rips It Up!”

Pictures: JANE HOBSON.