The Matchgirls

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The Matchgirls
Poster from a 2008 production of the Musical
Music Tony Russell
Lyrics Bill Owen
Book Bill Owen
Basis London matchgirls strike of 1888.
Productions

1965 Leatherhead Theatre Club

1966 Globe Theatre[1]

In the 1960s, the British actor Bill Owen collaborated with songwriter Tony Russell to create a musical about the London matchgirls strike of 1888. The musical Premiered at the Globe Theatre, London on Tuesday 1 March 1966 and marked the first musical directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne. A cast recording from this time is still available but there has never been a major London production since that time, although the musical was later published by Samuel French Ltd in 1979.[2][3]

Overview[edit]

The musical focuses on the lifestyle of the match cutters at the Bryant and May factory in Bow, London, with strong references to the condition Phossy Jaw and the political climate of the era. With much of the action set in the incongruously named, but fictional, 'Hope Court', the musical portrays Bryant and May as callous and uncaring employers, with factory foreman 'Mr Mynel' representing the threatening and imposing regime in which the girls were forced to work.

Synopsis[edit]

The central character of the musical is 'Kate', a tenement girl and factory worker, who writes to 'Annie Besant' to ask for help in seeking reform at the factory. The story follows Kate and Annie's attempts to rally the girls, leading Kate to become a reckless strike-leader and a key player in the creation and recognition of the union. There is also a sub plot in which Kate's involvement in the strike puts strain on her relationship with docker 'Joe'.

Despite the subject matter of the musical, a strong emphasis is placed on the positive mentality and natural ebulliance of the so-called 'cockney sparrows', this leading to a number of cheerful and entertaining vocal numbers and dance routines.[4]

Musical numbers[edit]

Musical Numbers:
Phosphorus
Look at That Hat
Look Around
Me
Men
La Di Dah (only in later versions)
Something About You
Mind You Bert
My Dear Lady
We're Gonna Show 'Em
Cockney Sparrers
Life of Mine
Hopping Dance: I Long to See the Day (not in some later versions)
Comes a Time
Amendment to a Motion
Waiting
Life of Mine Reprise (Finale)

References and notes[edit]