The Shadow Factory play by Howard Brenton. Secret Spitfire Factory in Southampton
Some stories have a slow burn, but when they ignite, the flare casts light and shadow onto the subject.
In this case the ‘shadow’ is the secret shadow factories set up by Supermarine with help from the Ministry for Aircraft Production under Lord Beaverbrook to manufacture Spitfires. The ‘light’ is the spotlight shone onto Emsworth resident Stella Rutter who, among many others, form part of the whole fascinating story. This fascinating piece of history has now been developed into a play.
At the same time as the Secret Spitfire Factory documentary was being researched and filmed in Salisbury, a stage drama about a similar Supermarine scheme set in Southampton was being researched and written by Howard Benton.
The Shadow Factory will have its world premier at the new theatre in Southampton City Centre, NST City. It will run from February 7 to March 3.
Solent Aviatrix has featured the Stella Rutter story for 4 years now, since a chance meeting with her in The Spring Arts Centre in Havant. Over lunch she told her story, recorded in her biography, ‘Tomorrow is D-Day’. Now some aspects of Stella’s wartime experiences at Supermarine Vickers, have been incorporated into one of the characters in Howard Benton’s play.
After the Woolston and Itchen factories were bombed, the Works and Planning Department relocation to the Polygon. The Design Team moved to the University of Southampton. Later they all moved again to Hursley, Winchester.
Stella Rutter meets a Boultbee Spitfire, Goodwood 2017. Copyright Stephen Mosley
Sam Hodges, artist director of Nuffield Southampton Theatres, who is directing The Shadow Factory told Solent Aviatrix,
“We have met Stella and she is very much an inspiration for one of our central characters. She is terrific, isn’t she? We’re hoping to include a video of her in our installation.”
So which of the play’s characters is inspired by Stella?
The cast includes Catherine Cusack who has a long list of stage and film credits to her name, including appearances at the Chichester Festival Theatre. In this production Catherine plays two characters, ‘Lil’ and ‘Sylvia’.
Eastenders actress Lorna Fitzgerald plays ‘Jackie’.
Anita Dobson, who established her name on TV many years ago as Angie Watts in Eastenders, takes on two roles portraying ‘Lady Cooper’ and ‘Ma’.
Stella Rutter in 1944
Which one of these three is our Stella? Go to the play and judge for yourself. Follow this link to Shadow Factory website for ticket and cast details.
Sam Hodges concluded,
“We’ve seen the Secret Spitfires documentary which is also fascinating. We’re thinking of screening it here.”
Follow this link to read the latest news on the Secret Spitfires DVD and cinema showings of the film.
Click here to learn more about Stella Rutter.