True story of how fear of war in Europe led to heartbreaking marriage collapse

24th June 2022

A new drama revealing the tragic true story of how one couple’s marriage was torn apart and mental health destabilised by the fear of war breaking out in Europe, is set to be performed in public for the first time next week (28 June 2022).

Based on the journal of F. L. Lucas, a Yorkshire-born writer, political commentator and voice against the appeasement of Hitler and Nazi Germany, the drama tells the real life events of how a crisis in Europe and the fear of the outbreak of World War II led to the heartbreaking and dramatic breakdown of Lucas’ marriage to his wife Prudey and her mental breakdown. 

The true story reveals the pressures that a political crisis can put on people’s relationships and the impact that major world events can have on people’s mental health.

The political crisis in Europe at the time, which weighed so heavily on the mental health of Lucas’ wife and their relationship, mirrors the crisis that Europe is facing today, nearly 85 years later, with Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The drama has been created as part of a collaboration between award-winning playwright  Nicola Baldwin and University of Sheffield historian Professor Julie Gottlieb. 

Professor Gottlieb is an expert on women’s political and cultural history and her current research is revealing how international crises can have a major impact on people’s mental health. Recent findings from Professor Gottlieb’s research have uncovered how the Munich Crisis of 1938 - the appeasement of Hitler and Nazi Germany - led to a number of suicides in Britain. 

Nicola has written plays for Sheffield Crucible, Manchester Royal Exchange, and writes regularly for BBC radio, including a dramatisation of the Abdication crisis. She recently collaborated with Manchester Jewish Museum and the Imperial War Museum on an audio installation. 

The new adaptation tells of how Lucas decided to keep a journal for one year, starting on 31 December, 1937, as he dealt with a growing sense of dread that war was set to break out in Europe.

The journal reveals how the psychological stress of impending war worsened his wife’s already precarious psychological health,and how the couple struggled to navigate the dynamics of their relationship as the threat of a world war became closer, leading to its complete breakdown. 

Professor Julie Gottlieb, Professor in Modern History at the University of Sheffield, said: “When I first read the diary of F. L. Lucas and learned about what happened to him and his wife, it sent shivers down my spine. It’s a very dramatic, passionate story, but one which was sadly all too common in Britain and throughout Europe in the build up to the Second World War.

“Even though so many people’s mental health was affected by the fear of war, it’s still a part of history that remains hidden and largely unknown. Sadly, it’s also very timely as war has returned to Europe once again through Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“As we saw Russia gathering its forces on its border with Ukraine earlier this year, the fear of war spread throughout Europe in a similar way to how it did during the Munich Crisis and it would have likely had a similar impact on people, their mental health and relationships to what we see with F. L. Lucas in 1938. I hope that by us bringing this part of history to light through the play, it can help us talk about how to cope with major world events and political crises.”

 

Nicola Baldwin, the award-winning dramatist behind the adaptation, whose plays often explore individual psychological experience of momentous events, said: “F. L. Lucas began his 1938 Journal as a “message in a bottle” to readers in the future, from a world he regarded as “nearer to breaking-point than ever before”. By November, the Crisis had engulfed Prudence, his wife.

“When Professor Gottlieb first told me about the Lucas book in 2019, I thought it was a fascinating story about a little-understood period of history. Returning to the Journal in 2022, it’s as though Lucas was blogging yesterday - conflict in Eastern Europe; the plight of refugees; children going hungry in British cities - a similar ‘epidemic of anxiety’ to what we see on Twitter today.

“Lucas believed the present may seem a little less painful if one tries to see it, already, as so much history. So, my dramatisation attempts this in reverse - allowing contemporary audiences to experience history in the present tense. By spending time with these characters, I hope we can get a new perspective on our own anxious times.”

 

Nicola added: “I also wanted to create a voice for Prudence, or ‘Prudey’; classics graduate, artist and sculptor with a love of travel, hiking, skiing and an enormous appetite for life, who died in 1944. She’s a silent partner in the book, who I’ve filled in through the words of her family and friends. The amazing cast of Robin Simpson, Lucy Carter and Laura Sophie Helbig bring their stories, and the events of 1938, vividly to life.”

The play is an in-progress adaptation of Lucas’ journal and will be performed in public for the first time through a staged reading at Sheffield’s Montgomery Theatre on 28 June 2022 from 3pm until 5pm. The performance will be available for people to watch online after the event via the University of Sheffield’s Player.

After the reading, there will be a panel discussion to encourage wider conversation on the impact of political crises on people’s mental health.

For more information on the reading, including how to get tickets, visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-nervous-state-staged-reading-and-conversation-tickets-315218485977 

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