Mistress and Misfit comes to the Royal & Derngate on Sunday, April 15, and focuses on Emma, Lady Hamilton, the mistress and misfit who lit up the life of Admiral Nelson and added to the gaiety of nations during the Georgian era.
Shappi said: “This show has been the most fun to write. It’s about passion and tragedy. What better things are there to write comedy about.”
It recounts the largely untold story of England’s unsung heroine, Emma, Lady Hamilton. For too long, she has been reductively tagged as Nelson’s mistress. She has been regarded as a bit of a harlot.
Women’s lib wasn’t uppermost in people’s minds in Georgian times. Emma moved heaven and earth to drag herself from scullery maid to Lady Hamilton. Shappi is eager to celebrate the woman England betrayed.
She said: “I was fascinated by Emma. She was really clever and compassionate and very hard done by. She was also a master of re-invention and a fantastically creative person.
“I initially tried to write a novel about Emma, but it was too hard, so I thought I’d do a show about it instead. That was easier and funnier. I relate Emma’s life to modern women and, like all stand ups, I draw people into the world as I see it so it’s still a very personal show.”
The comedian, who since 2015 has held the role of president of Humanists UK, also sees many parallels between the attitudes towards women then and now.
“Any woman who does anything seen as salacious is still demonised today. That’s a very modern theme. It’s not exclusive to Georgian times,” said Shappi.
“In the show, I talk about Emma being married to a man 30 years older than her. If they were from a lower class, women had no financial independence and no options.
“That happened 200 years ago, but much more recently, my grandmother was married when she was 13 to a man in his 30s. So perhaps my gran was the Emma of her time!”
Among many television credits, she has most recently appeared on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Shappi said of her time in the jungle: “It made you really look at life from a different angle. You are too hungry to think of anything apart from what do with your life. You have time to figure that out. It made me think I really, really want to write that play.”
Shappi adds that I’m a Celebrity will help her achieve that goal. “Financially, it has meant that I can now afford to lose money putting on my play.
“As a creative person, I am happy to do certain well paid jobs that fund my labours of love.”
She is currently working on an adaptation of her own book, Nina is Not OK, as well as doing the tour, with Shappi saying she wanted the thrill of performing live.
She said: “It’s like skydiving. The adrenaline rush is incredible. It’s probably the only time in my day when I’m utterly focused and have no responsibility to anyone else apart from the audience.
“It’s like a lovely, warm, relaxing bath, but a very high-octane bath.
“You can’t reproduce that feeling. If I haven’t done stand-up for a while, I just have to get back on stage. I need it like oxygen.”
The show starts at 7.45pm and it is recommended for people aged 16 and over.
Tickets for the show cost between £14 and £16. They can be booked by calling the box office on 01604 624811 or by visiting www.royalandderngate.co.uk.