YORK playwright Mike Kenny tells the unbelievable yet true story of Fenella, a Sumatran tiger cub from South Africa adopted by a Holmfirth family of acrobats in A Tiger's Tale, on tour at Pocklington Arts Centre tomorrow afternoon.

Presented by Rochdale's M6 Theatre Company with a cast of Owen Gaynor, Sophia Hatfield and Nicola Jayne Ingram, the play recounts how Fenella was given to the Overends, a family of West Riding circus entertainers, when they were touring South Africa in the 1930s.

She lived as a family pet in Holmfirth from 1939 to 1950, often to be spotted being walked on a lead by her owners past the nearby primary school, where children would be invited to pet her. She died on a sofa, much mourned by sisters Kassie and Meg, who had looked after her devotedly.

Kenny's show charts Fenella’s tale, from a circus train in South Africa, to a steamboat on the Atlantic Ocean and onward to Yorkshire as director Gilly Baskeyfield's ramshackle travelling troupe perform a high-spirited balancing act of circus, puppetry, songs and live music composed by James Atherton.

"The concept of the performance is that it's set up like a circus act with a group of storytellers, creating everything out of what they have in their wagon," says Kenny. "We have some acrobatics in the show, some juggling, live music, lots of silly jokes and there's pathos too."

Kenny, the Olivier Award-winning writer of York Theatre Royal's The Railway Children, was asked by Baskeyfield to turn the story of the Holmfirth Tiger into a play after she met one of the Overend sisters while working on an arts project.

York Press:

York playwright Mike Kenny

"Gilly thought it would make a great piece of theatre for children, but we had to approach Rosalind, a family member, to ask how she felt about us doing a play, and she was understandably protective about her family, so we took a while, talking to her, and she finally gave us permission and a lot of archive material too," says Kenny.

"It became a point of honour that everything I told in the story was true, apart from playing with time frames."

Stories of Fenella were plentiful, such as how she would eat her way through furniture. "There are still claw marks in the door frames at the family house," says Kenny. The Holmfirth Tiger never hurt anyone. "No-one ever lodged a complaint because all the locals rather liked her being in Holmfirth and when newspapers turned up trying to stir up a story, they were just sent away with a flea in their ear," says Kenny.

He has enjoyed getting his teeth into a new work after a run of adaptations. "Hallelujah! It's a real, precious rarity for me, and it's especially nice to do a Yorkshire story that's an original piece," he says.

M6 Theatre Company in A Tiger’s Tale, Pocklington Arts Centre, tomorrow (Friday) at 2.30pm. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk