Guest Blog: CRANK! Theatre

Guest blog: CRANK Theatre take over the blog this week, ahead of their show Filmland! coming to Calm Down, Dear festival of feminism

About the show

Filmland! by CRANK Theatre is a fictional biography of Harriet Hartley, who appeared in the first film ever made, Louis le Prince’s Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) then vanished from history. Our story follows Harriet as she journeys to London to become a film-maker herself, only to find that, as a woman, no-one will hire her. And so, inspired by a music hall act she once saw, Harriet Hartley becomes Harry Butterworth: from working class Northern woman to middle class Southern man. And as Harry begins his career as a film-maker, meeting some of the era’s greatest artists, Harry / Harriet begins to question which of his / her selves is the authentic one. Has the act of creating a lie in fact discovered the truth? 

Filmland! is a story about film, about fiction, about feminism and about gender. It’s set in the early days of silent film, when Filmland! was the nickname for the area of Soho where the British film industry is based. And although it’s set in the past it addresses the present, asking the question at the heart of every good movie: what happens next? 

Eli Harris on Filmland!  

Eli plays the lead role of Harriet Hartley / Harry Butterworth. Here he reflects on the process of making the show:

The Filmland! journey continues, much closer to a thing than before, a real life thing! We talk in rhythms, already speaking the same language and nurturing each other through each idea, each lunch time, each day. 

Everything is positive and I am being slowly consumed by it all, which is how I like it. We begin putting ideas on their feet, playing excitedly. 

Harriet, Harry and myself are bound together on our journey as so many of her experiences ring true to a former self and a more difficult time. My lies will become hers as I move to honesty. 

The difficulty comes when I must be Harriet, before Harry is more prevalent, delving into Lizzie before Eli. But what could be better for processing each world? 

Cross dressing and music hall

Harriet is inspired to create Harry by seeing the great music hall performer Vesta Tilley, who was also the model for Kitty Butler in Sarah Waters’ novel Tipping The Velvet, now dramatised by Laura Wade for the Lyric Hammersmith. The success of artists like Vesta Tilley and Ella Shields are testament to the sophistication of music hall: their work was witty, playful and self-aware, and allowed them to satirise not only gender roles but social class and inequality. In a world where power and money was even more concentrated in male hands than it is now, they were women who took control of their own lives and became rich by mocking the very systems that might otherwise have held them back. 

Discover the truth

Filmland! is fiction, but inspired by our research into silent film, music hall and gender. You can discover some of the truth at


Catch CRANK Theatre’s Filmland! on Tue 6 – Wed 7 Oct, as part of Calm Down, Dear festival of feminism.