New play on life of Jennie Lee to be staged in her hometown of Lochgelly 120 years after her birth

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A new play about Fife-born politician Jennie Lee will have its world premiere in the Kingdom for the 120th anniversary of her birthday later this year.

‘Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day’ will be staged in her hometown of Lochgelly in November to coincide with what would have been Jennie’s 120th birthday on November 3.

Jennie Lee was the youngest MP for North Lanark in 1929 at the age of 24, the first Minister for the Arts and the founder of the Open University.

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The play, written by Matthew Knights, will be performed at the Lochgelly Centre on Friday, November 1 and Saturday, November 2 before moving to Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall for performances on Tuesday, November 12 and Wednesday, November 13.

The new play will be performed in Jennie Lee's hometown of Lochgelly in November, around the time of what would have been her 120th birthday.  (Pic: Alan Ledgerwood/TSPL)The new play will be performed in Jennie Lee's hometown of Lochgelly in November, around the time of what would have been her 120th birthday.  (Pic: Alan Ledgerwood/TSPL)
The new play will be performed in Jennie Lee's hometown of Lochgelly in November, around the time of what would have been her 120th birthday. (Pic: Alan Ledgerwood/TSPL)

And plans are afoot to launch a fundraiser for a Jennie Lee mural in advance of the play, creating a lasting monument in the town.

In the run up to the production, a programme of creative writing groups will run for local residents supported by The Open University in Scotland, encouraging everyone to explore their creative potential in the true spirit of Jennie Lee as a champion of artistic and educational opportunities for all.

The play explores the life of Jennie Lee, who was born in Lochgelly in 1904 and became the youngest ever female MP for North Lanark in 1929 at the age of 24, before she could legally vote.

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After the death of her husband Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, she fought to protect his legacy and went on to become the first ever Minister for the Arts and founder of The Open University.

Matthew Knights, has written the play Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day which will have its premiere in Lochgelly later this year.  (Pic: Ezra McYoung)Matthew Knights, has written the play Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day which will have its premiere in Lochgelly later this year.  (Pic: Ezra McYoung)
Matthew Knights, has written the play Jennie Lee: Tomorrow is a New Day which will have its premiere in Lochgelly later this year. (Pic: Ezra McYoung)

The play, created by Knights Theatre, is supported by Creative Scotland, OnFife and the Open University in Scotland.

Knights Theatre artistic director and playwright Matthew Knights said: “I founded Knights Theatre with the aim of using social history to engage communities in Scotland with social issues. Jennie Lee was a passionate fighter for social justice who grew up in the working class mining communities of Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath in Fife. This was where she formed her core ideas and beliefs that shaped her outlook on life. Although they were industrial mining communities they were also places where tales were told, art and culture flourished and there was a spirit of self-education.

"I wanted to explore her story in the place where she grew up alongside the communities who live there today. The play is set in an abandoned ‘Jennie Lee Museum’ in which the museum mannequins come to life to tell her story, posing questions about how we interpret the past and what it means to us today.

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"The play features both a younger and an older version of Jennie who encounter each other and explore how she changes through her life and fights to remain true to her ideals.

"This is an entertaining play which aims to appeal to older generations who may remember Jennie and new generations who may be inspired by her story for the first time.

"We have been developing this play since 2019, sharing work-in-progress versions with Fife audiences and online during the pandemic. We are excited to be presenting the premiere in Jennie Lee’s birthplace of Lochgelly where her journey began and plan to tour throughout Scotland in the near future.”

Heather Stuart, OnFife chief executive, said: “Jennie Lee was one of our own – and a personal hero of mine – and we are incredibly proud to be so closely associated with her formative years. As an organisation all about making learning and culture available to all, we're thrilled this play will premiere in our theatre in her hometown and will show just how much of a trailblazer she was."

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Susan Stewart, director of The Open University in Scotland, added: “The Open University in Scotland is delighted to support this new play by Knights Theatre which will raise awareness of Jennie and her life achievements, her hometown and particularly her work in co-founding the Open University.”

For more information or tickets visit www.onfife.com

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