The last few days of rehearsal for “The Poisoners’ Pact” have hurtled by at breakneck speed, as we’ve tackled, in quick succession, the frenzy of comedic physical theatre, the “your-left?-no-my-left-no-you’re-right-your-left” of song-and-dance choreography and the impedimenta of cat-fighting in floor-length gowns. We’ve also accessed extreme emotions as our characters swing from the euphoria of a successful “dispatch” to the desolation of facing their own executions. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve met the pressure of having just 6 hours in which to shoot footage for our social media trailer (the rushes looked amazing). What good fortune, then, that our little band can always turn for grounding and unity to our common passions for home-made soups and (to perhaps a much greater extent) Aidan Turner of “Poldark2015″!
In quieter moments I’ve taken some time to research and reflect on my character, Fanny. Apart from the reportage about the crime and subsequent execution, little is known about the “real” Frances ‘Fanny’ Billings: I do know that her father was a shepherd from Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast and I like to imagine Fanny as a little girl, being sent by her mother to take parcels of food to her dad, who probably spent nights at a time away from home, sleeping rough in a wheeled, wooden shepherd’s hut (see pic).
To young Fanny, such a father must have seemed a romantic character. Perhaps he whiled away his solitary hours making up songs and stories to tell Fanny when she visited him. These visits would have been a special time for her, away from the competition of her siblings, when she would have had the sole attention of the first main man in her life.
Her marriage to James Billings, the second main man, probably began happily enough, but I think the root of their relationship problems may have been the agricultural reforms that impacted so heavily on Norfolk in the early part of the nineteenth century. I haven’t got room to go into detail, but it seems likely that in the 1820s James might have seen his job status as a farmhand change from a job-for-life to a casual status, while changes in the Poor Law meant he would not be able to rely on assistance from the state if he fell on hard times. He may have felt motivated to take part in the risky business of the “Swing Riots” of 1830.
Such financial pressure and preoccupation with social injustice would have left James with little time for lavishing romantic attentions upon Fanny. By the time Fanny met shoemaker Peter Taylor, a work-shy shoemaker who sang in pubs, he would have seemed far more romantic than poor James and may even have reminded her of her head-in-the-clouds dear old dad. Hence Fanny’s dangerous obsession with Peter that led to her determination to destroy all obstacles between herself and him – I can’t help thinking that if she’d been a Twentieth Century girl, Fanny’s favourite film would have been 1993’s True Romance.