• Programme

Overview

Written by Adam Z. Robinson and Directed by Martha Simon.

The Dukes theatre would like to welcome you to this brand new production that focuses on the infamous Buck Ruxton case, performed by a stellar cast in the style of a radio play.

When several wrapped bundles containing human remains are discovered in Moffat, Scotland in 1935 a landmark police investigation begins that will eventually lead back to two women in Lancaster and to the man who killed them. Based on the true story of the murders of Isabella "Belle" Ruxton and Mary Jane Rogerson. Still regarded as one of the most shocking crimes of the last century, this infamous case of jealousy, deception and tragedy also marked a pivotal moment in forensic detection.

Cast & Creatives

Helen Katamba

Cast - Voice 1 - Multiple Roles

Adam Jowett

Cast - Voice 2 - Multiple Roles

John Afzal

Cast - Voice 3 - Multiple Roles

Coral Sinclair

Cast - Voice 4 - Multiple Roles

Adam Z. Robinson

Creative - Writer

Martha Simon

Creative - Director

Charlotte Barber

Creative - Sound Designer

Emma Williams

Creative - Set and Costume Designer

Writer's Foreword

I feel very humbled to have been given the opportunity to write 'Belle and Mary'. The play focuses on a specific moment in history but many aspects of the case resonate, loudly, today. As such, it is an incredibly important story for us to revisit in 2021.

I had not heard of the Buck Ruxton case before being asked to write the play earlier this year. When embarking on my initial reading, I realised that this immense task was not something I could approach lightly. I never allowed myself to forget that at the centre of this story are two women who needlessly lost their lives. The play is based on real events, experienced by real people. Being respectful to them, by paying due diligence in my research and writing, has been my priority throughout. I have striven to represent an accurate account of what happened in 1935.

My research process was intense. I didn’t realise, when I began, quite how deep into the detail I would have to go to understand the case. And still, no doubt, there is far more out there to discover and learn. I began with the transcript of the trial, which details the events that unfolded in court in a forensic amount of detail. I explored hundreds of news publications in the British Newspaper Archives. I reached out to experts in various fields to ask for their invaluable insight into the case; among them were Professor Corinna Peniston-Bird, Dr Anna Hopkins and Professor Dame Sue Black, who were all instrumental in shaping the script.


During the research period, I spent many hours poring over materials held at the National Archives, Kew. To see the thousands of documents relating to the case up-close brought me even further into the story and allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of Isabella, Mary and the many other people involved in the case. In the archives I found transcripts of Ruxton’s diaries, a letter he’d written to Belle after the murders (which finds its way into the play, in part) and all sorts of other peripheral information which doesn’t seem to be documented or collected anywhere else. It was an incredible experience. I should say, too, that our play doesn’t cover everything I learned about the case - that would have been impossible in a two-hour production. The infamous Buck Ruxton case is huge and sprawling; almost unbelievably so. But 'Belle and Mary' does, I hope, tell the vital story at its centre.


Of course, I have a perspective on the case. As a playwright, it was my role to process the masses of information and create what I hope is compelling piece of drama. What I discovered in the writing was that there was very little embellishment necessary, the truth proved to be far more compelling than anything I could ever invent. It has been the challenge of my career to write 'Belle and Mary'. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve produced.

In titling the play 'Belle and Mary' we shift the focus away from the murderer. Too often in true crime stories victims and survivors are sidelined or forgotten entirely. I wanted the play to be focussed on them as much as possible and on the testimonies of those people who helped in the apprehension of their murderer.

 

The dialogue between characters is, as far as possible, based on testimonies and witness statements. In some key moments, where no testimony on specific dialogue existed, I created some conversations based on my understanding of the characters. I never knowingly altered any of the meaning, key details or facts of the case.

I know that the Buck Ruxton case is one that many in Lancaster are familiar with. I’m also aware that people will have their own perspectives on the case. We’re holding a Q&A panel event at The Dukes on Saturday 20 November at 12noon. I’m thrilled that along with Martha Simon (director) and me, Dr Anna Hopkins and Professor Dame Sue Black will be part of that event as panellists. So, please come along and share your insight with us - we’d love to meet you!

 

Watching the play come to life in the rehearsal room, under the direction of the brilliant Martha Simon, has been incredible. She and the cast (John Afzal, Adam Jowett, Helen Katamba and Coral Sinclair), along with Charlotte (sound designer), Emma Williams (stage and costume designer) and Brent (lighting designer and Technical & Facilities Manager here at The Dukes) have worked so very hard on the production and it has paid dividends - I hope you’ll agree! Thank you for coming to see the play. 

 

Adam Z. Robinson November 2021 



Primary Research Sources



Acknowledgements and thanks 


I’d like to say a huge thanks to: 

Porl Cooper and Karen O’Neill for commissioning me to write this play and giving me the opportunity to tell this story; Martha Simon, our director, it has been absolutely amazing to work with her and I’m so grateful to her for everything she’s brought to this production; our extraordinary cast John Afzal, Adam Jowett, Helen Katamba and Coral Sinclair; Emma Williams, our stage and costumer designer; Charlotte Barber, our sound designer; Brent Lees, Katy Errington and the whole technical team at The Dukes; Jay, Miles and Tom; the experts whose knowledge and insight have been invaluable in the writing of this script: Professor Corinna Peniston-Bird, Dr Anna Hopkins, Professor Dame Sue Black, Rachel Roberts and Mel Cookson-Carter at the Lancaster City Museum; Jeremy Craddock, author of The Jigsaw Murders, who has been so incredibly generous and kind in sharing information about the case; Keri Nicholson at the Lancashire Archives; everyone who came along to our drop-in event including Eileen, Barbara, Chris and Andrew; everyone who engaged with us on the Lancaster Past & Present Facebook group; Chris Rodowicz at Beyond Radio; Maria Felix Vas at BBC Radio Lancashire; Dr Laura Price and Taj Singh-Hayer for their input on various elements of the script; Dr Laura Robson-Mainwaring at The National Archives; Andy Craven-Griffiths for his feedback on the early drafts of the play; to everyone who has supported me during the research and writing period of 'Belle and Mary'; everyone at The Dukes who has been involved with producing the play.

And to my partner, Anna, for everything. 


Rehearsals

Access at the Dukes

Physical Access for Performances and Screenings in the Round

The Round entrance is open 20 minutes before the start of the performance. Both The Round entrance and The Round Foyer, including an accessible toilet, are fully accessible to wheelchair users. There is a dropped curb outside the Round entrance. If you arrive more than 20 minutes before the performance or would like to access the Box Office, cafébar or gallery, please see the access details above. 

Physical Access for Performances and Screenings for Moor Space

Moor Space is fully accessible to wheelchair users and has an accessible toilet. (There is a dropped curb)

Physical Access for Box Office, Cafébar, Gallery and Performances and Screenings in the Rake

The Dukes’ front entrance is accessed via 4 steps, followed by two further steps. These steps have a handrail on the right-hand side. To access our ramp, go down the cobbled alley to the left of the main entrance and then turn right. Please ring the doorbell by the ramp and a member of staff will open the doors. A car park space can usually be reserved at the back of the building (access via St Anne’s Place) in advance for those who need access via the ramp. Please mention this when booking. The whole of The Rake’s Front of House facilities, including the gallery, Box Office and accessible toilet, is on one level. The Rake theatre has one row of accessible seating on the front row, or chairs in this row can be removed to accommodate customers using wheelchairs.

Please note, there is a higher than usual curb directly outside the Duke's front entrance. There is a dropped curb to the left of St Anne’s Place, giving access down the cobbled alley to the ramp mentioned above. There is also a dropped curb outside the Round entrance.

Facilities for deaf or hard of hearing people

Infrared sound systems are available to amplify sound via a personal receiver. This can be used with or without a hearing aid. Selected film screenings in our programme are subtitled for hard of hearing patrons. An induction loop system is also available at the box office and in the Gallery.

Each of the shows produced by the Dukes has a British Sign Language Interpreted Performance. For details of our upcoming BSL Interpreted Performances please see www.dukes-lancaster.org.

Hearing dogs are welcome and fresh drinking water is always available for them. 

Facilities for people with visual impairments

For people who have difficulty seeing the stage, all shows produced by the Dukes have audio described performances and a pre-show touch tour of the set. The audio description provides a live commentary (pre-recorded for the Dukes Park Show) of all the visual aspects of the production via a personal receiver provided by The Dukes. The professional audio describer will set the scene, describe the costumes and props and describe the actors’ movements and facial expressions as they happen. This is done in such a way as to ensure you will hear as much of the dialogue as possible. 

We also offer touch tours before our audio described performance to enable people with visual impairments to feel their way around the set, costumes and props to get a better understanding of the show. Please let the Box Office know if you would like to use the service when you book. For details of our upcoming Audio Described Performances please phone the Box Office 01524 598500.

Guide dogs are welcome and fresh drinking water is always available for them. 

Please contact us in advance if you require any assistance.

Getting To The Dukes

Content Warning

This show contains references to murder, domestic abuse and violence. There are also some scenes which include graphic medical and anatomical descriptions of murder victims, and scenes that some people may find upsetting. Any people under 18 attend entirely at the discretion of their parent/care-giver. 

If you have been affected by any issues raised in Belle & Mary, you can contact Safenet, Domestic Abuse Services on 0300 3033 581 or email contact@safenet.org.uk. They offer inclusive, non-judgemental and respectful services focused on abuse to women, children and men.