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Bonny & Read play attracts local man with pirate connections…

Bonny & Read Shoreham

Bonny & Read play attracts local man with pirate connections…

When Ropetackle added the swashbuckling play Bonny & Read to its autumn/winter programme, little did we know how excited one local particular resident would be!

Bonny & Read is a new musical that tells the true story of cross-dressing pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read who run away to sea and have a fateful encounter with the infamous Jack Rackham (aka Calico Jack) in Jamaica.

And Clive Bonny, from Rottingdean, is descended from the Lancashire-born James Bonny, an Irish Sea coastal sailor who married Anne in the early 1700s. They separated in 1719, after Anne fell for Calico Jack.

As a happily married fraud detector, Clive has little in common with his ancestor, but finds connections where he can: “My dad kept parrots, our home is constantly raided by pirate birds and my sister’s name is Susan Ann Bonny,” he says. “I also like to drink Captain Morgan.”

Clive was delighted to see Bonny & Read on sale and got in touch with the following message. “As a renowned member of the Bonny family now living amongst Rottingdean smugglers, I hope to see a suitably indecent amount of blood and guts on stage. Please ask the players to tread the boards carefully…”

Bonny & Read writer and producer Claire Novello was similarly thrilled. “How amazing to hear that someone in our audience is directly related to James Bonny, one of the characters in our show Bonny & Read! It will be fascinating to meet him and to hear more about his pirate connections!” she says.

Bonny & Read depicts the circumstances that led these two women to disguise themselves as men, go out to sea, and join the notoriously male-dominated world of piracy. This epic voyage of twists and turns is a story of exceptional female bravery, adventure, and survival against all odds.

And that’s where another strange Bonny twist in the tale appears. Clive’s mum, Joan Bonny, played a key role in Shoreham’s Sussex Yacht Club Fastnet Race disaster in 1979. Rescue Services were unable to respond to members’ May-Day cries during Force 10 conditions, 60ft waves, zero visibility and the threat of storm victims over hundreds of miles. Throughout the night and next day, Joan coordinated radio messages from stricken Fastnet boats with the rescue services and helped save countless lives in the process.


Claire Novello started writing Bonny & Read in 2019, staged a few workshops and rehearsed readings, then developed the script during two long years of Covid-19 lockdown. Along the way, it evolved from a play, into a verse-play, and finally into a fully-fledged, four-handed musical, with a book and lyrics by Novello, a score by composer Frederick Appleby, and direction from Kenneth Michaels.

“I’ve always been interested in obscure and overlooked historical female characters.” Novello says. “We need to hear their stories.”

Indeed we do. Bonny & Read is on Wednesday 28th September at 8pm – and you can get your tickets here.


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