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Between the Devil and the Deep Sea

On Saturday night, a group of eleven Cambridge students performed the world-premiere staged reading of Lady Randolph Churchill's play Between the Devil and the Deep Sea. This play, written in 1920, was never staged or produced in its time, as Lady Randolph died unexpectedly in the summer of 1921. It was first discovered by academics in February when it was unearthed in the Churchill Archives Centre by Modern British History MPhil, Holly Dayton, who is studying the theatrical works of Lady Randolph for her dissertation. Fascinated by the play, Dayton determined to bring it out of the archives and to a broader public through a staged reading.

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The plot of the play concerns an aristocratic woman in an emotionally abusive relationship. Driven to extremes, she seeks a divorce from her husband, but is unable to obtain one under the legal standards of divorce at the time. It traces, in somewhat melodramatic style, the choices she makes to escape from her husband and the shame she experiences after the public scandal of her divorce trial. It evocatively narrates her struggle to gain her freedom from her husband while also maintaining her integrity.

IMG 9789This story was brought to life on May 12th 2018 in a reading which Dayton directed and produced in collaboration with Churchill Archives Centre. It was prefaced with a short introduction by Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, and a brief presentation by Dayton contextualizing female playwrights and divorce in the early twentieth century. The reading starred several History graduate students, including MPhil students Cara Pacitti, Holly Nielsen, and Maddy Redmayne, and PhD student Jonathan Nathan. The production also featured Cambridge graduate students Joseph Reid, Michael Foran, Isabella Rosner, and Alex Hall, as well as undergraduates Hannah Arnaud and Jenny Burville-Riley.4332816088 8d82bdf872 z2

Several special guests attended the performance, including Lady Randolph Churchill's great-great-granddaughter Jennie Churchill, her husband and Chairman of the International Churchill Society, Laurence Geller, and author of the recent book on the Churchills' finances, No More Champagne, David Lough.

The performance was a special opportunity to present archival material before the public in an entertaining way, and it was well-received by the audience.