Hannah An Artist in Dirt

Hannah, An Artist In Dirt was awarded runner-up for the New Writing South New Play Award for the Brighton Fringe Festival 2010

'If they wanted sex, they should have gone to see Bred in the Bone’s intimate piece about the relationship between Victorian diarist and poet Arthur Munby and his servant, Hannah Cullwick, who took to rubbing herself in chimney soot and licking horse shit from his boots for their combined pleasure. Watching their tense yet tender role-playing in a space so intimate you could see every tremor in Munby’s stiff upper lip, I felt as though I was peering through a keyhole into an intensely private recess of history – and the human heart.

The magnetism of Tanya Munday and Leigh Kelly was matched only by Will Keen and Anastasia Hille in Cheek By Jowl’s touring production of Macbeth.'   Bella Todd www.theartsdesk.com




Premiered at Brighton Festival May 2010

A true story.

Hannah Culwick, maid of all work, an unconsidered woman to the Victorian society she lived in, and Arthur Munby a celebrated poet, shared a secret life. Wrapped in each other’s love they formed a bond that lasted over forty years.

Hannah was in many ways Arthur’s muse, through her he escaped his position in life. She was only too willing to abase herself to please her Massa and became the ultimate drudge to prove her devotion. Arthur demanded notes from Hannah on her daily tasks whilst he also wrote extensively about her in his diaries.

Released after their deaths, they are testament to an extraordinary relationship.

Two actors portray Hannah and Arthur through their diaries, with music and movement.


Daniel Gott        Musician

Tanya Munday   Hannah Culwick

Leigh Kelly        Arthur Munby


Anna Mors                   Dramaturge/Director

Matthieu Leloup           Training

Muly Echezkel              Light design











Brighton Fringe Review

Walking Upstairs at Three and Ten, we hear the strains of an old English folk tune. Entering the space, we’re immediately in a different era with actors inhabiting their world with a calm assurance that’s compelling to watch.

The intimacy of the space, with limited audience sitting on either side of the action, is perfect for what unfolds as an intense and mesmerising relationship, revealing itself an arm’s length away.
In fact, at times one feels voyeuristic as a deeply disturbing manifestation of love is played out in the form of a series of master/servant rituals, punctuated throughout by the sensitive  and intelligent underscoring of Daniel Gott’s accordion playing.
Bred in the Bone Theatre are an international company and their roots in European physical theatre shine through in precise and mesmerising actions that have the solemnity of religious fervour. Each gesture of servitude – the removal of boots in order to lick, the self-daubing of black polish to fulfil yet another of the master’s fantasies - is given such reverence and allowed such time to develop that the air is ripe with tantalising anticipation.
In the hands of less skilled actors, this might conjure the feeling of laughing in assembly. However, Tanya Munday holds us in the palm of her proudly callused hand with her ability to turn household chores into elaborate seduction. The character of Hannah displays a wonderful balance of down to earth drudge and masterful coquetry, both master and servant of her own destiny and Munday displays this with the elegance and ease of a tightrope walker. Leigh Kelly is equally strong as the Victorian master, held together only by his stiff upper lip and starched collar, but vulnerable as a child when he craves the embrace of his servant lover as she scoops him onto her lap to rock him. Again, this could stray into the acting territory of cod melodrama, but Leigh inhabits this flawed character with such authenticity and integrity that we are at pains to cast judgement on the morals of the bizarre relationship he’s maintaining.

The play is created from the diaries and journals of Hannah Cullwick and Arthur Munby and as Hannah wrote – ‘Our is a story that a hundred years hence no one would believe.’ Luckily for us, this story has come to light through the help of this gem of a company.  It’s not an easy world to inhabit, bu

t it’s intriguing and very well conceived – and I doubt the floorboards of the venue have ever been so immaculately clean!

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The relationship between Victorian diarist and poet Arthur Munby and his servant Hannah Cullwick has become a byword for Victorian hypocrisy and sexual mores. She liked to lick his boots clean, to call him ‘massa’, to climb naked up chimneys and cover herself in the soot. He read to her, called her his ‘dirty darling’, and took refuge from society’s steely gaze in her lap. And when he married her secretly, she refused, as a matter of dignity, to live as his lady.
In this brilliant new piece from Sussex-based international company Bred In The Bone, the preservation of their own correspondence allowed writer Anna Iwanowska to tap straight into the tense yet surprisingly tender tenor of a love story so strange and so real, while introducing notes of gothic horror and humour. I loved the way Tanya Munday’s scrubbing sped up furiously as Leigh Kelly’s Arthur described ‘tete a tetes’ with society women, and the way she fought to win his affections back by literally talking dirty.

In this compact, darkly lit staging, shared only with an accordionist, we saw her eyes blazing beneath the soot, his mouth working uncontrollably beneath his beard. I felt as though I was peering through a keyhole into an intensely private recess of history – and the human heart.

This production will be performed in London later this Autumn followed by a South East tour in 2011