The Lady's Not For Burning

Written by Christopher Fry

Thurs 27th September - Sat 29th September & Tues 2nd October - Sat 6th October 1990

Directed by John Scadding

Is the Lady a Witch? Is the Soldier a Madman? And if the World does end at Midnight what will happen to the Bulbs? And who will marry Alizon? Heartbreak and Hope and Showers and Sunshine hit a country town in England in the Spring of 1400.

AuthorChristopher Fry

Christopher Fry (1907 - 2005)

Born Arthur Hammond Harris in Bristol, playwright, Christopher Fry took his mother's maiden name because he believed her to be related to the 19th-century Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. He also adopted Elizabeth Fry's faith, and became a Quaker. After attending Bedford Modern School he became a schoolteacher in Surrey.

Fry gave up teaching in 1932 to found the Tunbridge Wells Repertory Players, which he ran for three years, directing the English premiere of George Bernard Shaw's 'Village Wooing' in 1934. His play about Dr Thomas John Barnardo, the founder of children's homes, toured in a fund-raising amateur production in 1935 and 1936, including in its cast a young Deborah Kerr. His professional career began to take off when he was commissioned by the vicar of Steyning, West Sussex to write a play celebrating the local saint, Cuthman of Steyning, which became 'The Boy With A Cart' in 1938. It was put on professionally in 1950 with a young Richard Burton in his first starring role.

Tewkesbury Abbey commissioned his next play, 'The Tower', written in 1939. In that same year, Fry also became artistic director of Oxford Playhouse. As a pacifist, he was a conscientious objector during World War II, and served in the Non-Combatant Corps. In 1946 he wrote the comedy, 'A Phoenix Too Frequent' based upon Petronius's tale of the Ephesian widow. 'The Firstborn' was produced at the Oxford Playhouse in 1948 and in the same year he wrote a commission for the Canterbury Festival, 'Thor, With Angels' and 'The Lady's Not for Burning'. He continued to write until 2005, but his poetic style of drama began to fall out of fashion with the advent of the "Angry Young Men" of theatre in the 1950s. In later life Fry lived in the village of East Dean in West Sussex, and died, from natural causes, in Chichester in 2005.

PlayThe Lady's Not For Burning

'The Lady's Not For Burning' is a romantic costume comedy set in England in the Spring of 1400. Written in verse it was first performed in 1949. The review of opening night described the playwright as precocious with "a touch of genius,". After it ran on Broadway in 1951 it received the New York Drama Critics Circle award as Best Foreign Play of 1950-51 and it has been revived in London twice in the 21st century. There have been at least three TV adaptations; 1958, 1974 and 1987. The play marked a revival in popularity for poetic drama, most notably espoused by T. S. Eliot. It is the most performed of all Fry's plays and inspired British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to declaim, 'U-(you) turn if you want to, the lady's not for turning,' at the Conservative Party conference in 1980.

The play centres around the meeting of cynical Thomas Mendip, a man so bitter that he wishes himself executed, and Jennet Jourdemayne, a young and beautiful girl accused of witchcraft. Thomas's insistence that he be hanged falls on deaf ears, while Jennet's protestations of innocence serve only to incriminate her. Independently both characters turn to Mayor Hebble for understanding and assistance, but are met with only evasion and willing incomprehension. A certain amount of farce is provided by the Devise family, all three of whom are faintly ridiculous.

The Bench Production

The Lady's Not For Burning poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.

The Author Christopher Fry was living locally at the time of this production and Bench Theatre were lucky enough to enjoy a visit from Christopher Fry during one of the rehearsals. Having the author present is something the Bench had only ever before experienced when setting a playwriting competition, or when the author came from its own ranks.


RichardGrant Best
Thomas MendipDavid Hemsley-Brown
Alizon EliotBeth Callen
Nicholas DevizeAlan Jenkins
Margaret DevizeJanet Simpson
Humphrey DevizeAndrew Caple
Mayor Hebble TysonPeter Le Feuvre
Jennet JourdemayneNicola Scadding
The ChaplainVincent Adams
Justice TappercoomStuart Hartley
TownsmanMark Wakeman


Director John Scadding
Stage Manager Mark Wakeman
Lighting Operation Rob Finn
Poster Jane Hemsely-Brown
Costumes Jane Hemsely-Brown
Ingrid Corrigan
Set Design David Penrose
Front of House Jacquie Penrose
Jane Hemsley-Brown

Director's Notes

The Lady's Not for Burning is the Spring play in a four season sequences of plays. It was written soon after the end of the Second World War.

Although he has fun in dressing up his play in medieval trappings, he was actively using a well-tried style of playwriting of the period - the Drawing Room Comedy. In these plays, time and again, a glum and unsatisfactory family is invaded by charming and eccentric strangers who cause havoc in the lives of the members of the family and leave them at the end changed in some way; some more, some less so. In the meantime the strangers themselves have also been affected. Usually the plays take place indoors - in a room leading out into a garden, through ever present French windows. The people are usually middle-class and carefully articulate, and one rough and tumble character appears towards the end. Such is the well-tried formula Mr Fry used for our play this evening.

But oh the difference! With his Middle Ages excuse he has filled out the conventional format with lustier language and weightier business - with nothing less indeed than a frenzied dance of the positive and the negative - the clash of the life wish and the death wish. But fear not gentle members, it is also and remains a beautifully constructed drawing room comedy complete with medieval French windows! I hope you enjoy them.

John Scadding


The NewsAmanda Harlow

Olde worlde soap with a serious sting in the tail

Bubbling along like a 'Blackadder' episode crossed with a lost Shakespeare folio, 'The Lady's Not For Burning' gives the Bench Theatre a challenging autumn production. Christopher Fry's costume comedy takes some getting into for an audience with its word play and crazy action, so it is a brave choice for an amateur company where the acting has to be good enough to hold your attention. Stop concentrating for a moment in 'The Lady' and you risk coming to a surreal world where a witch and the Devil appear to have dropped in for supper.

Set in a middle-class home in 1400 "more of less, or exactly" the play hurls together a nice ordinary medieval family and two extraordinary intruders who may, or may not be, evil in human form. What follows is a mixture of ye olde worlde soap opera wrapped around serious word play about life and death. The Bench is in its second week of performance, and 'The Lady' is as good as it's going to get so this is a tight production from a cast who are almost word perfect and beginning to make sense. Performed badly, this play would be dreadful and none of the internal logic would work.

There are particularly good performances from Nicola Scadding as the witch and David Hemsley-Brown as the man who is desperate to be hanged. She particularly chats her way through an "April fit of exasperating nonsense" and convinces you that strange young women really be mistaken for hags. Also holding the attention are Beth Callon as the girl who chats to the saints and Janet Simpson as a housewife beset with chaos.

There is funny, clever and beautiful language in this play and the Bench Theatre is doing a good job of making it work. The result is probably the best amateur stab at it as you are likely to see. 'The Lady's Not For Burning' runs at the Old Town Hall, Havant until Saturday with performances at 7.30 p.m.

The News, 3rd October 1990

Production Photographs