‘Cockney sparrows’ help lighten musical

S43666H14 Some of the cast of Southwick Opera's The Matchgirls
S43666H14 Some of the cast of Southwick Opera's The Matchgirls

A GRIM period of history that saw young women rebelling against terrible working conditions forms the backdrop for Southwick Opera’s next production.

The Matchgirls, which is based on fact, tells of a strike by the young women in a match factory in London in 1888.

But it is not all doom and gloom, as the traditional ‘Cockney sparrows’ helps lighten the mood and warm the heart.

The musical will be performed at The Barn Theatre, in Southwick Street, Southwick, from November 13 to 15.

British actor Bill Owen collaborated with songwriter Tony Russell to bring The Matchgirls to the stage in the 1960s.

The story tells of a strike by the girls in a match factory at a time when unions were still groping for recognition and the mass withdrawal of labour, in the form of strikes, was an almost unheard of strategy in industrial relations.

But in London, the match-cutters finally rebel against their working conditions, which meant young girls’ jaws were rotting away due to the phosphorus and discipline was maintained by a system of crippling fines and sanctions.

Sue Gotham, from Southwick Opera, said: “A grim episode, perhaps, but not many minutes of the play are allowed to pass before the natural ebullience of the traditional Cockney sparrow helps to create gay, sparkling entertainment which warms the heart, yet retains the essential drama of the central theme.

“The incongruously named Hope Court is the setting for much of the play, for it is there the workers live in shabby tenements.”

Desperation turns Kate, the tenement girl, into a reckless strike-leader and complicates her courtship with Joe, a docker.

Annie Besant, the liberal reformer, champions the strikers’ cause and plays a vital part in bringing about their ultimate victory over what was then a callous management.

The Barn Theatre is part of the Southwick Community Centre complex. Performances are at 7.30pm daily, with a matinée on the Saturday at 2.30pm.

The musical will be directed by Su and Wendy Galleymore. Tickets are £10 to £12 via the website www.southwickcommunitycentre.org.uk or from the box office on 01273 597094.