Rosie and the Badly Kept Secret

Beginnings

Rosie and the Badly Kept Secret is based on personal experience of watching my mum go through cancer when I was three years old. Despite being so young I have some clear memories, and some that have probably found their way into my head from what I’ve been told about the time, but one thing is certain: even at three I knew something was wrong. I stopped getting dressed in the mornings, I started being uncharacteristically difficult, and some of the stories that I half-read, half-made-up featured a mum with a poorly bosom.

I began to think about how difficult it must have been to tell me what was happening: how do you find a balance between honesty and protection?

Talking to Macmillan

I went to chat with Macmillan to see if they had much experience of this, and how they dealt with it. As I was sitting in the Horizon Centre I picked up a leaflet that confirmed what I assumed; that honesty is the best policy. But how? There is huge pressure not to say the wrong thing, not to traumatise, and broaching the subject falls again to the parent or caregiver at an already difficult time.

Macmillan itself has such a huge task coping with those in treatment that there are limited resources for those affected secondarily, but this issue was a very common question from people who were diagnosed: how do I tell my children (or grandchildren)?

With this in mind, a woman called Gill who works within Macmillan and specialises in Neurooncology, started to collect books that tackled the subject either directly or indirectly; books like ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘A Monster Calls’. These boxes of books are left in various centres (including the Horizon Centre in Brighton) and they are a resource to help open up a conversation with children, or simply to read yourself.

The use of stories in this way has spurred me on and persuaded me not to shy away from the topic. There are a myriad of experiences, and I can only put one down in writing and on stage, but I hope it might give voice (a bright and childish voice!) to things that are very hard to talk about.

Shiver

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

*wink*

Making Shiver

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.

SOMNAI

SOMNAI was an immersive, VR show created by dotdot.London. Audiences were led through a sequence of lucid dreams and VR goggles allowed them to fly and explore psychedelic forests.

A review from the Telegraph read:
‘Waldron was a magnetic, intense presence. It’s a part that requires the performer to be spiritual, corporate, childish, otherworldly, creepy and reassuring, often all at once. Waldron pulled it off with aplomb’