SHE was a friend of Karl Marx and the first person to translate the Communist Manifesto into English, but in her hometown of Barrhead she is barely known.

Now, on the 200th anniversary of her birth, a new play, Rare Birds, is set to shine a light on Helen McFarlane, the feminist and radical who the play’s authors say deserves her own plaque in the town.

Running this Thursday and Friday at 7.30pm at the Starlight Music Theatre in Paisley, Rare Birds examines the life and writings of Helen through three generations of modern Barrhead women, and is produced by political theatre group the Soothside Radicles.

Penny Cole, a leading member of the group and the person who put the play together, said: “Helen was an amazing woman with an extraordinary life, so we thought we would write a play to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth.

“She was born in Barrhead, the daughter of a wealthy printing mill owner. After her father’s death, the mill went bankrupt and she went to Vienna to perfect her German and become a governess. She was in Vienna in 1848 during the year of revolution, when there were uprisings and political movements right across the whole of Europe.

“Then she came back to the UK, translated the Communist Manifesto and published her own writings under the pseudonym Howard Morton.”

The name of the play arises from praise Helen received from philosopher and joint author of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, who described her as a “rara avis”, or rare bird.

Penny said: “Helen was a super-democrat who believed in the right of people to govern themselves. Right now, people across the world are looking at democracy and what it means.

“I think Helen’s ideas and the way she approached them are very relevant to our time.

“It’s a historical story but we have brought it to life and it does highlight really modern, relevant issues, especially for women.

“There’s a group of us who would very much like to see a plaque in Barrhead to recognise Helen and if anyone would like to sponsor us to perform the play in Barrhead we’d be absolutely delighted.”

Tickets (£6/£4) can be bought at or on the door. Members of Unite trade union, which contributed to the play, go free.