About The Musical … by Terence Frisby
The play, which you can listen to here, was broadcast by BBC Radio some ten times, creating some sort of record, and it received the biggest audience response that anyone in the BBC Radio Drama department could remember. It won the Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Play and was mentioned critically in the same breath as Under Milk Wood and Cider With Rosie.
Jeremy James Taylor, Founder and Artistic Director of the National Youth Music Theatre with a wealth of worldwide experience of creating shows with children, kept nagging me to turn it into a stage musical. Then, in 2002, the CEO of the Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, a first-class, 700-seat theatre, asked us if we had a project for them to produce in-house, their first. Jeremy and I looked at each other and the musical was born.
In 2004, it was staged. Jeremy worked his magic with our cast of twenty-two children and twenty-three adult actors and singers. Our sell-out houses were overwhelmed. I have been working in the theatre for fifty years. I have never encountered such an audience reaction.
Following our success there Jeremy, my son, Dominic, and I, formed Vackies Ltd, whose aim is to raise the necessary funds and stage this show in the West End.
It tells of an important, traumatic, historical event, which still has echoes today: the mass evacuation of children from the major cities in Britain during WWII. It was a national tearing apart of families and attempts to make new ones, with results from happy to tragic.
I was seven, my brother, Jack, was eleven when we became evacuees, or ‘vackies’. We were two of a schoolful of children who were loaded onto a train with labels tied on us, gas masks and a packet of sandwiches each, sent away to the countryside to save us from the threat of German bombs. We had no idea where we were going or who we’d be living with – or for how long. We waved goodbye to our mother and the train took us to – Cornwall, as it turned out. There, in a remote village, we were herded into the local school and handed out to whoever would take us.
Some of us had surprising, rich new lives, some were mistreated, some ran away, some stayed on after the war, a few died during it. Jack and I were two of the luckiest.
Through the eyes of a child (me), the play tells the story of this tiny village, with its conflicts, kindness, pettiness, generosity and gossip, turned on its head, first by the arrival of so many children, then by the arrival of American soldiers, prior to D-Day – a whole regiment of black GIs. No one in the village had ever seen a black man.
In particular, it tells the story of five people: my brother and me; Elsie Plummer, a vacky girl, who taught me the facts of life; and the couple who took us in. He had been a soldier in World War One (one of seventeen who survived the Mametz Woods massacre), a former Welsh coalminer, now a platelayer on the Great Western Railway; a fierce, humorous man, passionately anti-war, anti-establishment and anti-God. She was a warm, good, working-class woman, who everyone turned to in a crisis. They weren’t just our temporary parents, they were ‘Auntie Rose’ and ‘Uncle Jack’ to the whole village. Besides caring for us, they took in Elsie when she became pregnant, while, at the same time, they were devastated by the loss of their own son, Gwyn, killed fighting in Italy.
The lives of our protagonists in their rural haven reflect the overall story of World War Two: Dunkirk; the bombing of Plymouth; the arrival of the Americans; D Day; the Italian campaign; the whole shape of the war is there in the action of the play.
The music for the show, by Gordon Clyde, John Altman and Richard Stilgoe adds to its emotional power. Gordon, sadly, passed away last year. He became too ill to continue working on the project, which is when John and Richard joined the team. I wanted to weave a pattern that is utterly authentic, so – besides the new music of Gordon, Richard and John – we have also taken music from World War Two and adapted it for our own dramatic purposes.
Find out more about:Investing In This Venture or The Vackies Team.
Listen to the music , the radio play or see some scenes from the Barnstaple production.