Best known for children’s classics like The Railway Children and The Phoenix And The Carpet, Edith Nesbit was also an accomplished writer of ghost stories. Edith In The Dark, the acclaimed play by Philip Meeks headed for Stantonbury in November, delves into the darker side of the celebrated author’s psyche. Claire Bibby, producer for Baroque Theatre, spoke to us about bringing a lesser known picture of the author to the stage…
Why did Baroque Theatre choose this play?
We enjoyed considerable success with a festive supernatural production, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol by John Longenbaugh, so ever since we have been looking for something with the same magic, mystery and thrills. As soon as I read Edith in the Dark I knew this had to be our next show.
Edith Nesbit was said to be the first modern writer for children, setting her stories in the real world. Is that her appeal to you?
Whilst all of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books invoke a sense of nostalgia, many have an edge of reality although the books do not over-dwell on this. For instance, in The Railway Children, the father is falsely accused of treason and imprisoned. Something quite traumatic for the family. It is perhaps the introduction of an element of darkness that keeps the story real and prevents the material from becoming outdated or hackneyed.
Another lesser known fact about her – Edith Nesbit was a socialist and a founder of the Fabian Society. Does Edith in the Dark include any politics?
Yes, in as far as ideas of humanity and kindness are political. It explores gender equality, the role of women in society, the relationship between classes and the role of marriage in modern society as well as the backdrop to the looming war. Edith in the Dark is a fascinating insight into the time.
Some writers, like Enid Blyton, have been lampooned by modern story tellers but not Edith Nesbit. Where do you think she stands in the genre?
Edith Nesbit has left a profound mark on the world. Her legacy is vast and the trail she created has been followed by so many. Her ability to weave the real world and magic together was remarkable. Her stories, still performed now and destined to continue long into the future, are a gateway to imagination and inspiration for so many generations.
Edith Nesbit had a difficult first marriage to Hubert Bland – were the supernatural stories she wrote a result of that?
Hubert Bland was an important influence on Edith’s own life story. His adultery with one of her dearest friends and the child born out of that union must have had a dramatic impact on her. She knew about anger, hatred and jealousy and there can be no doubt that these dark thoughts manifested themselves in her chilling, ghost story creations.
At a time of huge uncertainty and the end of the Victorian era, moving towards the Great War, there was so much fear and doubt. People turned to the supernatural and the macabre for answers where previously they may have sought comfort in the church. The rise of spiritualism at this time of global uncertainty was no surprise looking back.
Edith’s own feelings of loss echo through her stories and in this show, each character we meet has a secret, a story, sadness and loss that gets exposed for good or ill.
That’s what makes this such an incredible piece of writing. Philip Meeks has captured so much humanity with such beautiful insight into the soul of such a beloved but little understood author.
What is most entertaining about Edith in the Dark?
Edith in the Dark is storytelling at its finest – like the fireside tales that we all love so much… We get a beautiful insight into the lesser known aspects of Edith’s life, her sadness and darker side. As well as a ghost story and mystery!
Our Artistic Director, Adam Morley, has been working with writer Philip Meeks who has re drafted a few elements for us. We have a simple design that reflects elements of the Edith Nesbit’s writing room in her attic and allows for the attic space to be transformed into a variety of locations to frame Edith Nesbit’s chilling tales. The show also has a classical and atmospheric underscore and a dynamic lighting design that will enhance the mystery and give each story a unique style.
The play also gives our talented cast a marvellous opportunity to explore different characters, flex their acting muscles and just have a great time on stage. The play jumps swiftly from story to story with a fascinating narrative arc that will draw you in and keep you guessing.
Edith in the Dark plays at Stantonbury Theatre on Wed 14 November. Find out more and book tickets here.