Quentin Kopp, Events Secretary of the Orwell Society, and co-organiser of 2017’s anniversary celebrations of the publication of George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier, now reports on the musical Beyond Wigan Pier, which has premiered in Wigan.
We are pleased to be able to give you two poems by Terry Burtonwood, heard as part of the show, and lyrics to two songs from the musical, written by composer Alan Gregory.
On Friday April 27th Act 1 of Beyond Wigan Pier was performed on stage at The Edge, a new 1000 seat venue in Wigan. The place was packed to see Wiganers young and not so young perform on stage together. It was a great spectacle for all as the songs and music written by Alan Gregory, a local man with a passion for music and helping to change the lives of others, came to life with dance, song and acting on stage. Our Patron, George Orwell’s son Richard Blair was on stage to read passages of The Road to Wigan Pier at key points in the production.
This production was a fantastic development of the huge creative output of Wigan people, who helped The Orwell Society mark the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier in March 2017. We were entertained with songs, poems and dramatic interpretations of scenes from the book at Sunshine House, ALRA and The Old Courthouse.
Sunshine House is the amazing community hub in Scholes. Orwell famously stayed with the Brookers in the tripe shop around the corner. Barbara Nettleton and her team of volunteers started the hub in a spare bedroom in her home and it has grown to fill two adjacent buildings, one a large former Church Hall. The first event in, what is now the Sunshine House Annex, was our visit in March 2017. Sunshine House provides facilties, educational opportunities and support in a wide variety of ways. Implicit in this, is the desire to bring the community together. A key element of this is the daily modestly priced lunches they provide. Instead of sitting at home, young and old come to Sunshine House and rekindle old friendships and make new ones.
Sunshine House is one of the organisations in the town, which is benefiting from and converting the Wigan Deal into something special. Donna Hall, the CEO of Wigan Council and her team, have responded to the reality of reduced funds to fulfil their responsibilities, by creating The Wigan Deal. This recognises the impact of the multiplier effect, which volunteer effort can produce. Local organisations of all types, which want to improve something in the town, like Sunshine House or Alan Gregory and the Beyond Wigan Pier team, can present a case for funding in which they have to detail the impact any investment in their venture will bring. In simple terms £1 of council money can prime £10 or more benefit to the community and can replace more effectively services provided by the council. More to the point the huge benefits to morale and health that the artistic and community outreach projects bring, are incalculable.
I would like to give you a couple of samples of the work created for March 2017 and the Beyond Wigan Pier production. Barbara asked Alan if he could write a song at short notice for March 2017. 3 writing groups had received support from Sunshine House and in some cases English Pen to develop something for our visit. One of those groups was comprised of local school children. Barbara did not feel that they were ready to be exposed to having to perform for 200 or more people and asked Alan Gregory if he could write a song. He wrote 3. The songs were enthusiastically received and have grown into an ambitious aim to present a full musical in 2020, which will explore life in Wigan in the pre-war years described by Orwell and through the decades since. Having seen how many young talented people responded to his call to participate in the production, and how the families of many of them could not afford to pay for them to go to colleges/universities offering training for their dramatic, musical and dance talents, fully supported by Donna Hall, Alan wants the production to earn money for a Trust Fund to provide the financial support needed by these talented young people.
All of the artistic and creative activity which was stimulated by the 80th Anniversary is testament to the latent talent in Wigan and other towns, which only needs encouragement, support and a platform to flourish.
Here are two of Alan’s songs, the first of which we heard in 2017.
The Road to Wigan Pier, lyrics and music by Alan Gregory
And the duet inspired by Orwell’s view from his train as he left Wigan to continue his investigations in the north, You Look At Me, written for this show.
You Look At Me, Music and Lyrics by Alan Gregory
Terry Burtonwood is another talent to emerge from the preparation for the March 2107 80th anniversary event. Terry was persuaded by a friend to join the writing group. Terry is retired and having been persuaded, suddenly realised that he had a talent he had not been aware of, which is a talent for capturing with humour a wide range of emotion and local incident in verse expressed in Wigan Dialect.
As part of a dramatization of scenes at the Brooker’s tripe shop and boarding house in which he played a part, Terry recited his poem. The poem captures exactly the suspicion of Orwell engendered by local people’s view of The Road to Wigan Pier. Sadly, much of this has been created by people who have not read the book! I am delighted to say that Orwell’s great admiration for the people of Wigan as they faced appalling difficulties is now more widely understood.
Some Wiganers’ Thoughts About George Orwell, by Terry Burtonwood
As 1,000 people saw on Friday 27th April, not only can Terry write, but he is also a very confident performer, with a great sense of timing. Alan Gregory asked him to write a poem to perform at the end of the 1st Act, which was almost the end of Friday’s production.
1,000 people saw the confident way in which Terry performed this poem, something which he could not have imagined a couple of year’s ago. Like Alan and so many others who have come to light, what a talent.
Here is Terry’s poem, written for the show:-
And Terry’s poem in full was …
A Wigan Dialect Poem About Change, by Terry Burtonwood
In conclusion, I hope that Alan Gregory’s dream to provide the money to enable young talented people from Wigan to be able to realise their talent becomes reality.
(c) Quentin Kopp 2018
(c) Terry Burtonwood 2018
(c) Alan Gregory 2018
Uploaded May 5th 2018