String – the Musical
with John Bowler, narrator.
String – the Musical is a brand new, specially-commissioned musical set in Hailsham and the surrounding area and is probably the most ambitious project the festival has undertaken in its 15 year history.
String – the Musical was performed in October 7th and 8th, 2022 as part of Hailsham Festival Extra
These new performances will take place at the Grove Theatre, Eastbourne on March 1st and 2nd, 2024
Not every town has its own musical. But Hailsham does! And last weekend “String” brought the town alive at the Pavilion before near-sell out audiences across three shows. Due to this success, talks are continuing about taking “String” to Eastbourne, and the possibility of recording the songs for commercial CD release.
After the general hubbub of people arriving at the Pavilion, finding their seats, greeting friends and waving at others they think they know, the evening’s entertainment kicked off when the hand-picked instrumental ensemble ploughed headlong into the overture. During this time, narrator John Bowler, known for his acting roles in television shows, with “The Bill” and “Casualty” among them, walked on stage. He then guided us, with a smile, through the evening, while on occasion became so animated during some of the scenes, that he was spotted lip syncing to songs.
This brand new specially-commissioned musical, aptly named “String”, due to the town’s industrial manufacture of rope, bound together different strands of time into a central love story that runs through one Hailsham woman’s life. A young Harriet (played by Ruby Edwards) and Tom (played by Tyler Sargent) set the pace with “Hey Cupid Are You Working Today?” which led into the stunning “Last Train On The Cuckoo Line”, a duet between the talented Abbie Marsden and David Watts in their respective roles of divorcee Joan Sanderson and Peter, her first love.
There’s a unique vocal exchange between the adult Harriet (Marcia Bellamy) and her now deceased (ghost) husband Tom (Chris Parke) in “This House”. She wants to move on: he doesn’t want her to, telling her so in no uncertain terms! However, for many people the highlight of this section was the introduction of the farm boys and their loud, pounding rendition of the powerful “Sussex Boys We Wunt Be Druv”, pushing home the pointlessness of war that took so many lives. Leading this rousing reprise of patriotism was actor Steve Scott, in his role of local hero Nelson Carter VC. It’s pretty heavy stuff.
The Musical’s creator Tony Biggin has his finger on the pulse when it comes to composing softly textured melodies that sweep and flow, providing the perfect backdrop to leading librettist, Stephen Plaice’s sensitive lyrics. This was especially so when listening to the hard-hitting “The Day That Sussex Died”, a ballad of considerable note with a choir adding a fullness to the song’s sentiments. This cunning mixture of music, blending the mood of the 1st World War with sixties pop and contemporary love ballads, was an ingenious move by Tony Biggin, whose creative skills range from university lecturer, leader of county music services and acclaimed international composer.
Through song and music, the story of the two young lovers, Harriet and Tom oscillated, as each overcome one struggle after the other, until the closing “This Town (Ties That Bind)” brings it all together, evoking the pride these people have in their town – and that town is Hailsham!
John Bowler, narrator
John Bowler has appeared in many notable Theatre productions including A Patriot for Me at the RSC, and the critically acclaimed Popcorn UK Tour. John’s numerous television credits include DCI Banks, WPC56, Casualty, and a long running character in The Bill.
The creative team includes Brighton-based writer and lyricist, Stephen Plaice, one of Britain’s leading librettists and writers for Music Theatre. The music is by Tony Biggin, a popular and successful composer who lives in Hailsham.