A play about the founder of the Christian Science faith sounds about as thrilling as a night in drinking cocoa with Mary Whitehouse.

But in the words of writer-director Christine Buxton, Mrs Eddy, which opens at the Colour House Theatre tonight, is "a jolly good courtroom drama".

Buxton's play dramatises the extraordinary period in Mary Baker Eddy's life when the spiritual leader was reported to have died and been replaced by a dummy so that staff could embezzle her funds.

One of the most rich and famous women in 19th century America, 86-year-old Eddy retaliated with the message "I Am Alive" splashed across the front page of the Boston Herald.

Despite retractions however, a court case was then brought by Eddy's illiterate son to establish whether his mother was capable of running her own affairs, a case funded by none other than Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, the tabloid newspaper that printed the original slurs.

"I knew that if I was going to write something, I'd write what I knew about," says first-time dramatist Buxton. "I grew up in a Christian Science background, but I've also worked as a legal secretary for the past 10 years. So this play is not so much about faith. It's about the questions that are posed by this particular story."

Many of those questions are raised by the character of Sibyl Wilbur, a real-life investigative journalist from the Boston Herald, who is determined to find out whether Mrs Eddy is a genuine figure or a charlatan.

Thanks to the involvement of the New York World, Eddy is being tried in both a court of law and the court of public opinion. And as Wilbur probes into her story, she highlights an uneasy relationship between the two arenas.

"It's very topical," says Buxton, who has adapted this play from a screenplay that she hopes will be optioned by Hollywood. "One, because Mrs Eddy was a woman, and what have we seen with Hillary Clinton? As Mrs Eddy says: Why can't a women preach in a church or stand for goverment?

"Then, there's this whole deal with today's celebrity press. Political things are going on but all people are interested in is which Nancy to choose on that TV show. It distracts from what's really going on and feeds back into politics. If our politicians look good on television, we elect them."

Is there an element of mission to Buxton's work? Still a practising Christian Scientist, she spent months researching the story using court papers, letters and the doctrines in Mary Baker Eddy's major publication, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures.

"It's not our job to convert anyone," says Buxton. "Mrs Eddy raises some quesions that are based on her teachings but she's not there proseltysing. Her lawyer wasn't interested in her religion; he was interested in her getting justice, proper justice, from the courts. And that is the story."

Mrs Eddy; Colour House Theatre, Merantum Way, Merton Abbey Mills, June 12-22 (except 17-19), 7.30pm, £10/£8, call 0208 542 5511, visit colourhouse.org.uk