In 1918, little known author Edith Winstanley Hull penned her first novel called The Sheik – an equivalent to Fifty Shades of Grey for the era, it was a racy tale about female sexuality and dared to be bold in a time when women still wore ankle long tunics. Playwright Jo Denver rediscovers the author and captures the time in the theatre’s new play The Making of a Great Lover. Co-directed by Michelle Connelly, the period production depicts Edith’s life as the wife of a small town English pig breeder who returns from WWI to find the woman he left behind has changed – it also follows the rise of Italian actor Rudolph Valentino as the great lover. “It’s a real exciting show; it’s full of intrigue and lots of fun. It’s also a bit sexy in places too,” says Michelle. “Edith sat down when her husband was away at war when she was left alone in her big home, breeding pigs with her young daughter Cecil, and she decided that she would empower women. So she wrote an amazing book, The Sheik, which eventually rocketed Rudolph Valentino to stardom in the movie adaptation. “The book written at that time probably caused more of a stir than the Fifty Shades of Grey series has now.” Michelle says Edith changed the way that women thought about sex. “She opened up a dialogue that’s been going on ever since I guess, about women’s passion and the right of women to take control of the bedroom and to let their men know what they liked.” When Rudolph Valentino starred in the silent movie also called The Sheik, it became a worldwide sensation. “That’s where Rudolph Valentino got his moniker The Great Lover,” says Michelle. Fascinated by people like Edith and Rudolph, playwright Jo Denver revelled in putting the two together on stage in The Making of a Great lover. “The way that Jo put it together is very innovative. There’s wasn’t much biographical information about the family. But when Jo was finalising the play and calling for auditions, one of the decedents of Edith, who happens to live in Tully in North Queensland, contacted the Lind Theatre and was put in touch with her, so the decedents came along to our opening night and were able to fill in some of the gaps,” says Michelle. With close to capacity shows every night, Michelle says the artistic talents of others have helped to make the play shimmer. “Professional photographer Darren Smith has been very very kind to lend his time and his incredible talent to put the gorgeous images together and it’s been a great marrying of the minds because Anne Grant and Ngaire Tombs are two incredible seamstresses and costume designers – so those two worked tirelessly on ensuring that every single piece of costume you see in the show was absolutely true to the period. And then Darren was able to come in and look at the characters in their full costumes and create beautiful, quite sumptuous photos of the show in action,” says Michelle. “It’s been critical to the great audiences we’ve been seeing since we started, and there’s no doubt that the images have really helped to frame people’s expectations and let them know that what they’re coming to see is unique.” You can see The Making of a Great Lover at the Lind Theatre, Nambour on the Sunshine Coast.