for Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Based on an unfounded rumour, and relayed by the people who knew her least, this ‘gem-like show’ hosts a concoction of curious characters to imagine what might or (most likely) might not have happened to Polly’s great-great-grandmother
Fear not, there will be no soul-searching, but ‘like a potted Downton Abbey’ (The Scotsman) we will peer through the keyholes and rifle through the drawers of Edwardian England
Created in collaboration with Elske Waite (Ondervinden) this one-woman, ‘perfectly-pitched’, post-Victoriana, spectacular is truly incredible
Shiver was inspired by a family story and a lot of research into the history of WW1 and the women left behind. While the men were away, young working class women were gaining independence by working in factories and taking home a wage that they could spend however they wanted. Fashions changed accordingly: hemlines rose, and women began to go out unaccompanied by male relatives. Feminists began to fear that the campaign for the vote would be thwarted by loose morals, and hysteria about the soaring numbers of illegitimate children reached newspapers. Marie Stopes’ first book Married Love was published in 1918 and tackled the subject of female sexual pleasure and consent within marriage, as well as giving voice to a rising eugenicist argument, which was a key strand in the birth control movement. Women’s Patrols were set up by concerned citizens to scour the streets and parks of London at night, splitting up couples and following men home with flashlights. It was an era of panic for the establishment as young women began discovering their own power and sexuality.
Against this backdrop, the (potentially true) story of my great-great-grandmother became more interesting. My grandmother and her mother before her were adopted, and the rumour Shiver is based on emerged when my grandmother found her siblings at the age of seventy. Her siblings told her that her mother, Ivy, was adopted from a grand house in Marylebone where her mother, Alice, had been a servant and met a Russian noble on the run from the revolution. I dug a little deeper, and found a man with some resemblance to the family, round faced and pink cheeked; his name was Boris Anrep. Boris is fascinating; he had links to the Bloomsbury set and laid the mosaics in the National Gallery. Picture a bear of a man with an infectious laugh, a love of food and a string of mistresses. He sounded like a good character, so I set out to tell the story of when Alice met Boris.
Shiver was co-written and directed by Elske Waite, artistic director of Ondervinden, and we started writing our show from the perspective of Alice. The trouble was, I knew very little about her, and the stories of maids have rarely been written down (Margaret Powell being a great exception); she had disappeared, and so had her story. Two weeks before we were due to travel up to Edinburgh, over a bowl of noodles, we decided to rewrite the whole thing from the perspective of everyone else in her life: her sister, the housekeeper, a stranger at a party, and the registrar who recorded her birth; the only evidence of her existence. Our brilliant sound designer Vili Chaushev managed to create a soundscape in no time, and we had a show! We got a good review in the Scotsman and some great feedback, but I would love to revisit it and revive the play.