Play: Boomtown Gals by Joyce Branagh
Original Music from Cameron Mackintosh Bursary winner Kieran Buckeridge, with set and costume design by Olivia Du Monceau.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one woman performance of this original work. It is the culmination of research which has been carried out into the part Oldham women played in the First World War. It felt totally appropriate to be watching it in Oldham, not too far from the Town's War Memorial. The play opened with the unveiling of the Memorial in 1923 which was an event attended by 10,000 people. One of the names on the memorial, Mabel Drinkwater, was featured in the play as were other Oldham women who found their way to the front. Behind each one was an extraordinary tale. Blending fact with fiction, a compelling picture of how ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary circumstances emerged.
Sarah Rosebury, 'the Lancashire Lass', is the focus of the play and we follow her quest to find her 15 year old brother, Sidney who has joined up. A music hall singer, she bitterly regrets a recruitment song she performed, as she thinks about the effects such an action may have had on people's lives. The redoubtable Sarah Lees, an ex Mayor of the town, encourages her to go to find Sidney. We meet two Oldham girls: Mabel Drinkwater and Ethel Beaumont who had their own ambitions as to how they could help the boys at the front. As Sarah travels to the continent, she meets an Oldham nurse, Sarah Hallam and the renowned surgeons Dr Catherine Payne and Dr Joanne Watts. The Oldham connection continues as Dr Payne was the Head Surgeon at Oldham Infirmary pre-War; an outstanding feat in itself.
I found the mixture of comedy and pathos very affecting. Hearing about the exploits of the Oldham women was inspiring. They believed in providing practical help. This was summed up by the gift of 'The Oldham Suffragist'- an ambulance donated by Sarah Lees, herself. A hundred years on from the action of the 'War to end all Wars', it was a thought provoking look at some extraordinary lives and a fitting tribute to the courage of seemingly 'ordinary women' who were anything but. Joyce Branagh who wrote and performed the piece provided a performance which shone with sincerity. I loved it.
In short: an affecting glimpse into the human cost of war.
To find out more about The Boomtown Gals, go to Joyce Branagh's website here