A play about the sensational trial of the 28-year-old Edith Thompson – whom many consider to have been wrongly hanged for murder – is coming to the Lowry theatre.
A hundred years ago on January 9 2023, Edith Thompson was executed for inciting the killing of her husband Percy Thompson. Percy had been stabbed by Edith’s 20-year old lover Frederick Bywaters while the young married couple walked back from the theatre.
Thompson had written more than 60 love letters to Bywaters and these were pored over in court, details from which were carefully picked out to implicate Thompson in plotting her husband’s murder.
Now, in a new play written by Harriet Madeley, the transcripts of that trial have been used to examine the fascinating case in close detail. Edith is produced by award-winning verbatim theatre company Crowded Room and will premiere at The Lowry, Salford from 1-4 February 2023.
Back in the 1920s, murder trials were the ‘reality TV’ of their day. For newspapers they were front-page fodder and people queued around the block for a ‘ticket’ to the court hearings. In December 1922, the jury of Edith Thompson’s case were told by the judge, “You should not forget that you are in a court of justice trying a vulgar and common crime. You are not listening to a play from the stalls of a theatre”.
Edith quickly became a media hate figure – a symbol of “a modern London without a conscience” – and the jury took less than two hours to find her guilty. Commentators have since suggested the guilty verdict was fuelled by prejudice towards childless women, adulterous women, women with younger lovers and women in general.
The trial later inspired works from literary legends including Albert Hitchcock, James Joyce, Agatha Christie and PD James and is still talked about to this day.
Using the transcripts from Edith Thompson’s trial, combined with dramatised scenes, Edith will re- examine the infamous case of one of the last women to be executed in the UK, whose guilty verdict has long been criticised but never overturned. According to her biographer, Laura Thompson, Edith “never stood a chance” in front of a 1922 jury. But 100 years on, will we see her differently?
Written by Harriet Madeley (The Other Tchaikovsky) and directed by Madelaine Moore (Old Vic 12), the cast for Edith will feature Ivy Corbin (The Great Gatsby) as Edith, Peyvand Sadeghian (Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story) as Freddy, Rose-Marie Christian (Marvin’s Binoculars at the Unicorn) as the Prosecution, and Crowded Room’s artistic directors Mark Knightley (as Judge/Percy) and Harriet Madeley (as the Defence).
Edith is supported by Arts Council England, the John Thaw Foundation and Unity Theatre Trust.
The script was developed in collaboration with women at HMP Styal and National Prison Radio, the first national radio station for prisoners.
Edith premieres at The Lowry in Salford on 1-4 February 2023. A live stream is available on 3 February.