This post by National Theatre Coordinator Stephen M Hornby continues our catalogue of Festival Theatre.
“A Very Victorian Scandal”, the first piece of Festival Theatre in 2015, had been so succsseful that it invited further dramatisations of hidden histories. However, some important lessons had also been learnt. “A Very Victorian Scandal” was essentially three one act plays, all of which were performed only once. This severely limited access to the live performances and many people were disappointed not to be able to see them. Additionally, staging three different plays, with different casts, sets and costumes in three different non-theatre venues on three successive days was also a real logistics and stage management nightmare.
2016 saw a conscious decision to commission a small cast, one act piece and perform it in a short run to address these concerns. There was also a deliberate decision to choose a trans story and to ensure that the lead trans role was performed by an excellent trans actor. The “T” in LGBT has sometimes, in the past, perhaps not been given the same focus in LGBT History Month as other groups. Recent interest in the story of a North West, Victorian trans pioneer seemed like fertile ground for dramatisation and Abi Hynes was selected to research and write a piece telling his story.
Harry Stokes drowned in the River Irwell in 1859. When his body was examined, he was found to be biologically female, though he had lived as a man and married twice. The term ‘Man-Woman’ was used in Victorian reports of the case and was in usuage then, along with terms such as ‘female husband’.
Based on the few records that exist, ‘Mister Stokes: The Man-Woman of Manchester’ is an insightful, colourful and moving play by Abi Hynes, which tells Harry’s story and the stories of the women who called him husband. In a time when today’s words did not exist to describe him, he managed to live a successful life in a hostile enivornment for many years. But, like many trans pioneers, he had been mostly forgotten….until LGBT History Month commissioned a new play based on his life.
Abi Hynes said ‘It’s a remarkable story and it’s incredible that it’s remained untold so far. The play was a wonderful opportunity to bring to light part of Manchester’s history that should, by all rights, be well-known, not just locally but nationally and internationally. It was great to have to start filling in the gaps in the record of Harry’s life and whilst speculative they are reasoned and reasonable creative and historical choices.”
‘Mister Stokes: The Man-Woman of Manchester’ was first performed in short run during February 2016 at the People’s History Museum, Manchester Metropolitan University and the Martin Harris Centre in Manchester. Professor Stephen Whittle and Dr Emma Vickers were the historical advisers on the development of the script. Joey Hately played Harry Stokes and Jo Dakin played Harry’s two wives and the woman charged with laying out his body. It was professionally filmed to enable wider audiences to enjoy it. The show was made possible with a grant from the Arts Council of England and the gnerous support of private patrons.