Beth Flintoff’s play The Glove Thief is a historical drama about a group of Elizabethan tapestry-makers whose embroidery expresses their deepest longings and perhaps has the power to change the course of English history.
The play was commissioned as part of the Platform initiative from Tonic Theatre in partnership with Nick Hern Books, aimed at addressing gender imbalance in theatre by offering a series of big-cast plays with predominantly or all-female casts, written specifically for performance by young actors.
It was first performed by students of Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance at Ugly Duck, London, on 15 June 2017.
The play is set in the year 1569, and Elizabeth I is Queen of England. With no heir to the throne, political unrest is growing. Elizabeth has spies everywhere, and there are rumours of threats against her life, which begin to centre on her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. When Mary arrives in England, escaping Scotland in fear for her life, Elizabeth sends her to Tutbury Castle, the home of Bess of Hardwicke, once the richest woman in England. Is Mary a guest, there for her own safety, or is she Elizabeth’s prisoner? In the play, the three most powerful women in England are seen through the eyes of an ordinary young girl, Rose. When Rose is accused of stealing, Bess steps in and takes her into her household, on condition that Rose spies on Mary for Queen Elizabeth. Rose must spend her days sewing with Mary and her attendants. Sewing is a subversive and escapist act: for Rose, it is an art form and a chance to break away from her background; for Bess, it is an expression of her love and loss, and liberation from her marriage; and for Mary, it might literally be her way out of captivity.
The play can be performed by a minimum of sixteen people (twelve female, four male), with no maximum size.
In an Introduction to the published playtext, Beth Flintoff writes: 'This is the fourth in a series of historical plays I am lucky enough to have been asked to write in the past couple of years. The experience has made me realise how profoundly dissatisfied I am with the way history has been presented to us so far, and how happy to discover that all along there have been countless stories of remarkable women, sitting unnoticed in the dustbin of history, waiting for someone to brush them off. This story, of a group of women forced to spend years closed up together and trying not to go mad in the process, was one such forgotten tale of courage and ingenuity that deserves to be told.'
The Rose Bruford production was directed by Ola Ince and designed by Elle Rose. It was performed by Katie Spencer-Blake, Adriana Moore, Daisy Adams, Jesse Bateson, Alice Renshaw, Ellie-Jane Goddard, Siobhan Bevan, Rachel Lemon, Billie Hamer, Grace Liston , Jorginho Osuagwu, Robert Rickman, Niall Cullen, Tayla Kovacevic-Ebong and James Killeen.