Find out how May Queen got its name and what inspired writer Frankie Meredith to create this acclaimed production.
When I was originally commissioned to write the play that would become May Queen, we were in the depths of a second (or third) lockdown and I, like everyone else, was spending a lot of time at home or out on walks in the countryside that borders Coventry and Warwickshire. I had moved back from almost 10 years in London and was excited and relieved to be back in the West Midlands and its leafy surroundings.
I wanted to write a play that celebrated where I was from, that wasn’t set in London, and showcased what it was like to grow up in Coventry.
I started by thinking about what and who makes up our city. Draft one was a series of scenes between Leigh (who is still our protagonist) and a mythical being called Cofa. This first draft was called Cofa’s Tree. As well as having the carnival which the play is still based around, it had a much more other-worldly feel. It really focused on the relationship between the two characters, whilst also questioning whose city this was and who belonged in it. As myself, director Balisha Kara, and dramaturge Sarah Dickenson progressed with the drafts, it became very clear that I needed to be telling Leigh’s story, and as much as I loved Cofa, he had to be cut.
There was also another reason this character was taken out. My early research uncovered that the name ‘Coventry’ is derived from the words ‘Cofa’s Tree’, and that it was a settlement built around a tree and named after a man called Cofa.
As I told Leigh’s story, and as my research delved to new depths, I started to discover different theories for the creation of our city’s name. Theories that were a lot more exciting and a lot more… feminal.
Cofa still appears in the play by name, and the other-worldliness of the play hasn’t disappeared altogether. But it is very much now about telling women’s stories and owning where we are from – much less about a man creating boundaries around a tree.
You’ll have to come and see the play to find out which theory we focused on. It’s wonderful to watch Leigh discover it and share the sense of pride for our city.