Express & Star

New play sees Wimbledon legend, glove tycoon and arts centre boss gather in E & S newsroom

The Express & Star newsroom will be the setting of a new play about three high-profile West Midland women, who found themselves in the media spotlight for very different reasons.

Dorothy Round, Sylvia King and Edna Kirby meet together at the Express & Star newsroom in a new play

Babsolutely Fabulous, by former Birmingham Poet Laureate Adrian Johnson, tells the stories of Dudley Wimbledon champion Dorothy Round, controversial leathergoods tycoon Edna Kirby, and Sylvia King, the driving force behind West Bromwich's infamous arts centre, The Public.

The play sees the three women gathered in the Express & Star newsroom in Wolverhampton to give their account of their lives which had, for very different reasons, all made them subject to public scrutiny.

Round, who won Wimbledon in 1934 and 1937, began playing the sport with her brothers in the grounds of the family home in Park Road, Dudley.

Kirby built up the highly successful Tarantella leather-goods business in Walsall, probably best known for its driving gloves endorsed by Formula 1 star Jim Clark.

But she sparked a tabloid storm when she offered her 120-strong female workforce free contraception advice, with her employees walking out on strike in what they saw as a perceived slur on their virtue.

King was the driving force behind the short-lived Public arts centre in West Bromwich, which had been the centrepiece of Sandwell Council's plans to regenerate the town. However, the project was dogged with problems, opening two years late, with costs having spiralled from £27 million to £72 million. The centre closed in 2013, after just five years, after the council finally pulled the plug on its funding.

Mr Johnson, who works as a teacher at Link Academy in Netherton, Dudley, said the play would see the three different characters giving their own accounts of life in the public eye.

"Through the magic of theatre, the three main characters all meet at the Express & Star, despite living in very different times," he says.

"They all want to try to meet with the editor of the Express & Star to talk about they are covered in all the Press. They have all been covered by the news media in their lives, and they talk about how it went for them.

"They are on a mission, unexpectedly gathered in the Wolverhampton offices of The Express & Star, to reclaim their own story of remarkable achievement from the sensational front page newspaper reports, myth, local legend, and sceptical newshounds.

"All three larger than life Black Country women have their side of the story to tell, but will they succeed, listen, and learn from each other's tale that includes soaring success and some devastating disaster?"

He said that Round, in her youth, had a fervent admirer in Wimbledon legend Fred Perry, but her commitment to her sport and her Methodist faith was an obstacle to any romance.

King, he said, was a 'Marmite' character who divided opinion.

"For some she remains something like the Black Country’s very own Joan Littlewood, a tenacious, barnstorming Black Country woman and cultural dynamo who promoted and created a huge, new, pink steel and glass people’s ‘fun palace’ in West Bromwich.

"For others she is a demonised and much-vilified character who blew through £76 million of lottery and public money."

The play comes to West Bromwich library at 7.30pm on June 6, Thimblemill Library, Smethwick at 7.30pm on June 7, followed by a 2pm show at Walsall Leather Museum at 2pm on June 8.

It then moves to Dudley Library at 7.30pm on June 13, the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton on June 14, with the final performance at Wednesbury Gallery at midday on June 15.