The Undoing of Polly Button is a folk opera with music by Katherine Fear and narrative by both Fear and Anya Fay.

It was enthusiastically received on Saturday 5 August 2023 at the Manor Pavilion Theatre and tells the story of the gruesome murder of ribbon-weaver Mary Green, known as Polly Button, on a February night in 1832, by her married lover John Danks. The piece is set against the backdrop of the collapse of the ribbon-weaving industry during the turbulent middle years of the nineteenth century and is based on the meticulously researched book of the same title by Stephen Moore, who was present for the performance.

The show uses the contemporary character of author George Eliot, who based several of her fictional characters on real people involved in the case, to narrate and comment on the unfolding story. Anya Fay brings the role of George Eliot compellingly alive with a commanding performance while Katherine Fear inhabits the role of spurned wife Jane Danks in a brooding portrayal.  They are supported by a talented and committed ensemble who play the other roles, sing the songs, and play the instruments.  Rosie Calvert’s beautiful, melodic voice lent a particular poignancy to the role of Polly Button.  Sound engineer, David Griffith, perfectly managed the sound balance of the evening so that every single word of the story whether spoken or sung could be heard. Particularly memorable songs include Love is Blind, This is not the life I planned and We’re Living in a Boom Town, which was reprised as the inspiring finale to the evening.

The story of the murder of Polly Button, pregnant at the time with John Danks second child, has gripped the attention of generations in the town of Nuneaton. Polly herself was dismissed and scorned during the trial of John Danks with criticism and judgement of her loose morality and even a suggestion that she was a prostitute.  But Polly gets the last laugh from her pauper’s grave as she has left around 1000 descendants from her five children, all of whom survived to adulthood at a time when raising children in abject poverty would have made that extremely challenging. Indeed, two of those descendants Maxine Round-Smith, from the eldest child Elizabeth’s line, and Jane Thompson from the child of both Polly and John Danks, also called Jane, were both in the audience.