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Theatre Preview: Miss Nobodies

Award-winning writer, comedian, and performer Ruth E. Cockburn has written ‘Miss Nobodies’ a new two-hander play celebrating female working-class voices over the last 100 years. Ruth asks, ‘What was it like to be a working-class woman in history and why is there so little literary evidence of it?’

Over the last couple of years, Ruth has been researching, talking to people, visiting libraries, and scouring bookshops for female voices. She was made aware of a writer and activist called Ethel Carnie Holdsworth by Mid Pennine Arts. She is cited as the first female working-class published author in the UK. Her first novel Miss Nobody was published in 1913 and she has a long list of articles, publications, and books to her name, yet Ruth had never heard of her.

“Being a Lancashire lass myself” says Ruth “I was shocked that such an important figure hadn’t been celebrated more. I come from Blackpool; a place that I love yet has its own socioeconomic issues. If I had heard about a woman that taught herself to read whilst working from the age of 11 in the mills, went on to fight for women’s rights, AND create amazing poetry and stories, I think I’d have listened to history lessons a bit more. As much as the corn laws and crop rotation is important to history, I reckon radical women would have been more my cup of tea.”

So, the idea for the show came about. Reading Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s first novel Miss Nobody I was struck by the humour of it. It was like reading a Jenny Eclair book; rich with dark humour and beautiful language.”

“As much as I love the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, working-class women like Ethel Carnie Holdsworth talked about the romance of choice, not the romance of marriage. It seemed so remarkable to me. Ethel talks of what it’s like to be a woman in difficult situations with such passion, I’d never heard the female experience talked about like that. I wanted to do something just like that. Make a show that people watch and recognise themselves.”

Over the research period, Ruth has collected sound bites, long-form stories, and images from women all over Lancashire and they have been woven into the show and accompanying book. She plans to continue to collect stories after each performance. These audience interviews will allow the show to evolve over the tour, whilst also saving the stories that might be lost, and document the voices that might never be heard. The show is a funny, vibrant, thought-provoking show that uses Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s poetry along with music, storytelling, and laughs to tell the story of women through our recent history. Additional songs and stories have been also written and performed by Keith Carter, (one half of ‘Black Liver’ – Ruth’s alter ego as a comedy musician in this satirical duo with Keith).

‘Miss Nobodies’ is touring throughout 2022 and tour dates can be found on her website.

Go see her current show at The Grand Theatre 30th-31st March, 2023 Buy tickets here

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