New play reveals one of Welwyn Hatfield's hidden characters

PUBLISHED: 09:55 29 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:01 29 September 2017

Charlotte Payne-Townshend, wife of George Bernard Shaw, is played by Alexis Ward in a new play in Ayot St Lawrence. Photo: Peter Ward

Charlotte Payne-Townshend, wife of George Bernard Shaw, is played by Alexis Ward in a new play in Ayot St Lawrence. Photo: Peter Ward

Peter Ward

One of Welwyn Hatfield's most elusive and influential residents will be brought into the limelight in a new play.

George Bernard ShawGeorge Bernard Shaw

“Mrs Shaw Herself” is about political activist Charlotte Payne-Townshend, wife of George Bernard Shaw.

It will be held at 7pm at St Lawrence Church tomorrow (Saturday, September 30), near to the historical couple’s home in Ayot St Lawrence.

Payne-Townshend and Shaw lived at “Shaw’s Corner” for 37 years of their unusual marriage.

The one-woman play is drawn almost entirely from Charlotte Payne-Townshend’s letters and diaries by playwright Helen Tierney.

Charlotte Payne-Townshend, played here by Alexis Ward, was a committed activist and supporter of women's rights. Photo: Peter WardCharlotte Payne-Townshend, played here by Alexis Ward, was a committed activist and supporter of women's rights. Photo: Peter Ward

Helen told the WHT that while George Bernard Shaw basked in international celebrity, Charlotte was “quite a sidelined character - someone who deliberately didn’t want attention.”

But this doesn’t mean Charlotte didn’t want to leave her mark.

“She was quietly really important,” said Helen, who lives in north London.

The Irishwoman was born into wealth, and instead of living the life of a rich socialite she decided to use her position to have an impact on society.

Shaw's Corner, where a talk will be given before the play at St Lawrence's Church this SaturdayShaw's Corner, where a talk will be given before the play at St Lawrence's Church this Saturday

Helen said: “She speaks very powerfully about her desire to put things right, and that she’s going to use her money in useful ways.”

Charlotte was a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage, education for women as well as the Shaw Library at the London School of Economics - which she didn’t want named after herself.

She was in her 40s when she met Shaw.

She proposed marriage, but he was initially reluctant to be seen as a gold digger.

But her financial and intellectual support helped him work in the security he needed.

The couple entertained the great and the good in their home, including Nancy Astor, Lawrence of Arabia, and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

The play is accompanied by Helen on the harp, playing Irish folk tunes reflecting the couple’s homeland.

Their marriage is rumoured to have been celibate, and Shaw a terrible playboy, but they had a profound impact on each other.

“Their marriage on one level was very practical and not very romantic,” said Helen. “So we liked the idea of these rather emotional folk tunes, the things that people in a marriage don’t say to each other.”

Helen said she was inspired to write about Charlotte when she met actress Alexis Ward.

“Alexis was playing a role in a George Bernard Shaw play, and we talked about his wife, and we realised Alexis looked a little bit like Charlotte,” said Helen.

There will be an introduction by Pat Fairbrass from the National Trust at Shaw’s Corner before the play.

No reservation required, donations at the door.

For more information, see here or call 01438 8203707.

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