Way back in October 2010, we profiled playwright Shiona Morton, as she gave us her insights into being writer-on-attachment at The Bristol Old Vic. (Read the interview here.)
Shiona’s first play Baby Bank was set in her native Glasgow and produced at The Everyman Theatre Cheltenham in 2004. Since then she has written At the Hop for Forest Forge Theatre Company (2005), The Rain Has Voices (2006 Play for Somerset), Bailey Bridge for NTC Touring (2007), and The Gliding Hour for The Point Young Peoples’ Theatre, Eastleigh (2007). Theatre West in Bristol produced Mary Mary (2007) and Shut Up (2008). In 2008 Shiona created Seaworthy, a site-specific performance for Plymouth’s Hidden City Festival. In 2009, Shiona was writer-on-attachment at The Bristol Old Vic.
Shiona has written a new play – Scribbler Girl – which is being performed as part of Northumberland Theatre Company’s 4Scene – Passion Power Politics Pleasure which tours in the north-east in March 2013. (Visit 4Scene here for dates and more info.)
Shiona’s play is about Mary Leapor, a very real poet and kitchen maid who died of the measles at twenty-four and yet wrote some wonderful verse about her own world and plight of women in the early eighteenth century.
Of the piece, Shiona says:
“For the last couple of years I’ve been working on a play set in the eighteenth century. Part of the research was to find out about the levels of literacy among women at the time. My daughter, who was studying English Literature at university, mentioned a woman called Mary Leapor, a kitchen maid and poet who died of the measles in 1746 aged only twenty-four. Despite her young age, Mary already had a significant body of work. She had learned to read early, possibly at a local free school, and was always “scribbling” which upset her parents no end, as her mother in particular felt she should be occupied in “profitable employment” ( sound familar?).
“Fortunately Mary ended up working in a household with a sympathetic mistress and a library and thus her real education began. She was introduced to the classics and read voraciously, her favourite poet being Alexander Pope. We don’t know why she didn’t stay in this house, but she had other, less supportive employers, who, like her mother, complained abut the excessive “scribbling”, done even while she was turning the spit in the kitchen. She was sacked from that job.
“Mary’s experience of work, and writing, seems very contemporary. She overcame the obstacles of class, family disapproval, lack of education, and the expectations for women of her time, only to fall foul of the measles at a young age. Her poetry was published after her death and was recognised again in the twentieth century as worthy of note. She writes about her work, about the status of women, and about the ageing process. She is witty and at times caustic in her comment.
“My 30-minute play selects three moments from Mary’s short life and emphasises her passion for writing. She meets a stream of characters, who help or hinder. The style is fast and furious, often funny, and tries to emulate the cartoon quality of a Hogarth print. I hope that the play entertains (as Mary’s poetry does) and inspires us to write, whatever our circumstances.”