The Long Letter is a new play with original music that tells the story of Mary Ann Hunn, a fiercely determined actress whose struggle for independence mirrored the revolutionary times in which she lived. At its core is the burning injustice she felt at her estrangement from her ‘boasted son’, the future Prime Minister George Canning.
The Long Letter draws on a vivid 60,000-word letter that Mary Ann wrote to George in 1803, in which she movingly seeks reconciliation with both her politically ambitious son and, ultimately, her own life choices.
Mary Ann was born in Dublin and came to London as a young woman. Although lacking in formal schooling, she was well-read and intelligent, and followed the works of radical thinkers such as the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Left penniless and debt-ridden by the death of her husband, with young George to support and another baby on the way, Mary Ann sought financial independence via one of the few routes open to her, a career on the stage.
Becoming an actress came with its own costs, however, notably a loss of respectability. This was compounded by an unwise liaison with a fellow actor whose earlier marriage, although effectively dissolved, meant that Mary Ann was tainted with scandal. Her son was taken from her, and when he grew up to be a respected and wealthy politician he did his best to keep his mother at arms’ length. In response, Mary Ann wrote George a long and passionate letter, telling him the story of her life and how she was forced into the choices and compromises for which he and wider society had judged her unworthy.
The Long Letter brings that letter to the stage and tells the story of one woman’s fight against the constraints of her time, and her efforts to rebuild her life when that fight cost her what she held most dear – her child.
The Long Letter is at The White Bear Theatre 14th – 18th January 2020.