Popular panto performer Pip Johnson won’t be playing it for laughs when the curtain goes up on a new production at Hitchin’s Market Theatre on Friday night.

Pip, a mainstay of the venue’s adult panto season in recent years and also familiar from her larger-than-life characters in the venue’s corresponding summer season of Roman revels, has a very different part to play in Annie Tomlin.

Writer and director Kirk Foster has come up with a little-known local story for his third ‘Hitchin history’ play, which will be running until Saturday, July 25.

In 2013 he gave us the story of the pioneering female academics who helped establish what we now know as Benslow Music as a centre of educational excellence, and last year he paid tribute to the town’s First World War Victoria Cross winner Frank Young.

Annie Tomlin’s tale is a grimmer one altogether – it’s the tragic story of a young Hitchin woman and the fate that awaited her when she had a child out of wedlock in the straitlaced days of the early 20th century. The resulting court case stirred the nation, highlighting the flaws of a supposedly liberal and caring society that professed concern for those worse off, but wasn’t always able to deliver.

Kirk has been writing plays for the Market Theatre since he established the venue in 1996 and historical pieces have always been a particular interest – he combed records in the National Archives in Kew when researching Annie Tomlin’s sad story.

Also in a six-strong cast is Jessamy James and the versatile Carrie Laurence, recently seen in What Goes Up, a drama about a stand-up comic with a tangled personal life which is scheduled for an extended run in Edinburgh next year.

Kirk said this week: “We are deep into dress rehearsals and ticket sales are very encouraging.

“The play runs 70 minutes straight through with no interval, but with the bar open afterwards to give a nice setting in which to chill out and discuss the show.

“Although the story takes place in Hitchin, Luton and Stopsley, it is a play that can be enjoyed by audiences who have never even heard of Hitchin. The setting of the play is irrelevant to the power and sadness of the tale.”

He’s promising another Hitchin History next year, but is spoilt for choice because of the wealth of material. He said: “Any suggestions would be gratefully received.”

Find out full details of performance dates and booking information online at www.markettheatre.co.uk.