At the Gates dates from and is based on the events of the same year when the Women’s Freedom League picketed the House of Commons from July 5th to October 28th, 1909: “an example of patient endurance which should go far to silence the foolish cry of “hysteria” as applied to the Suffrage Movement”.
Chapin was actually in prison when the play was first scheduled to be performed at the Albert Hall in December 1909. However, it was cancelled due to the “lateness of the hour” following a long programme. Based on the experience of a young woman’s 540-hour picket, it presents a series of encounters between her and various passers by, including: a male sympathiser, an embarrassed waiter, two well-disposed policemen ardently interested in politics, cynical about most of their rulers and one of them a great theatre-goer who likes serious drama. Others include: small boys and grown men who jeer; a drunk (who boasts that he has the vote while she does not); a seamstress (who works in a sweatshop and is battered by her husband) and who supports the suffragists as a means to gain the power, it is implied, to change her circumstances; an elderly, self-described “womanly woman”, who attacks the male sympathiser with her umbrella. The line: “These Antis are so militant”, spoken by the heroine, was added to the play between the submission of the manuscript to the Lord Chamberlain’s office and the play’s publication. It is interesting dramaturgically in its attempt to give theatrical form to a durational experience and find a theatrical language to describe an experience of multiple brief encounters, rather than a defining dramatic collision of different viewpoints. The piece makes reference to the biblical Book of Esther comparing the arbitrary exercise of power by the tyrannical King Ahasuerus who ordered the slaughter of the Jews of Persia to that of the government of the day – but “Ahasuerus was a gentleman. He did hold out his sceptre . . . He didn’t keep her waiting either”. The published play is rare and has attracted little critical attention