Plague! The Musical

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Plague! The Musical
Plague! The Musical 2010 poster
2010 Production Poster
MusicDavid Massingham, Matt Townend
LyricsDavid Massingham, Matt Townend
BookDavid Massingham, Matt Townend
Productions2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
2010 Upstairs At The Gatehouse
2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Plague! The Musical is a musical with book, music and lyrics by David Massingham and Matthew Townend. It is a dark comedy based loosely on the events of the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.

Plague premiered in 2008 at The Questors Theatre in Ealing, London [1] before transferring to C venues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival[2] where it was named a 2008 sell out show. A new production was performed at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[3] It was again performed at C venues with London previews at Upstairs at The Gatehouse.


It is 1665 and Clive Hucklefish has come to London to start a career as an actor on the London stage. Mugged and left for dead within minutes of arrival (Oh London Town!), he finds himself being loaded onto a cart by Jerry Muldoon, assistant to destitute undertaker Phil Anbury. Realizing that Clive is not in fact dead, the initially disappointed Jerry escorts Clive to the local pub 'The Ugly Duck' and befriends him, introducing Clive to Milly, the pub's buxom barmaid and Jerry's sometime girlfriend.

Jerry explains the difficulties of making it to the London Stage, and tells Clive his story of how he became involved with undertaking. Clive agrees to join the undertakers to help revive their failing business (I've Got It Made!). Anbury appears, but becomes embroiled in an insult duel with his hated rival, the Alchemist, with which he has a longtime feud, a duel that sees Anbury victorious. Jerry celebrates by showing Clive how to win the attentions of the local women, but Clive foolishly targets the haughty Isabella, daughter of the Alchemist, who rejects his advances.

Meanwhile, the evil Alchemist plots to ruin the undertakers forever by distilling the fabled elixir of life, creating immortality for everyone (The Elixir of Life). A confrontation with his daughter, who berates him for his pointless feud with the undertaker, leads to Isabella's departure.

Finding Isabella in the street, Clive, Milly, and Jerry are surrounded by the beggars of London, who are ultimately swayed by Clive's gullibility (Spend a Penny). Isabella is impressed by Clive's normality, in contrast to her father's strangeness, and the two fall in love (Never Felt Like This Before).

Clive completes his training and becomes a fully fledged undertaker (Coffin of Your Past), but the Undertaker's business is already suffering, and the pressure soon takes its toll on Clive's relationship with Isabella (as does his jealousy over her ex - the celebrity rat-catcher the Pied Piper). Alone and distraught, Clive is approached by a sinister duo with an offer he can't refuse - a pair of rats dressed in mafioso suits (The Rat King). Pushed into the river tied to a rock, he is led deep into the London sewers to meet the mysterious Rat King, who claims to be a visionary seeking racial harmony between man and rat (Man and Rat). He begs Clive to uncover the bones of a great martyr to rat-kind - Elman Squatcherd. In return, the Rat King promises that the business will prosper. Clive is swayed and delivers the exhumed remains to the sewer.

Unbeknownst to Clive, however, Elman Squatcherd was the last known victim of the Black Death and the Rat King actually uses the remains to infect London with the deadly bubonic plague (It's Bubonic)! His henchmen also steal the Elixir of life to ensure that salvation is impossible.

The Londoners quickly assemble at the town hall looking for leadership but, without a cure, the devious Lord Mayor can only appease the mob with a scapegoat – the Alchemist - (Someone to Blame). Desperate, Isabella turns to Clive to protect her father. Clive, however, has his own problems: he has been visited by an overworked Death (who is revealed to be a woman) and informed that he must end the plague or face the consequences. Clive soon realises that the rats must be behind everything and forms a plan to destroy them. He initially tries to recruit Isabella's ex-boyfriend, the Pied Piper, to the cause (Pay the Piper), but the Rat King has already anticipated the move and kills the Piper with a booby-trapped sewer explosion. The Rat King then ambushes Clive, Jerry, Milly and Isabella, tying them up and informing them that the age of rat has begun, and that rats will take the humans place in London once they are gone. All seems lost but, thanks to the timely assistance of the beggars and the Undertaker (who has returned from exile as a new Pied Piper), the Rat King falls to a watery grave in a confrontation on London Bridge, taking the stolen Elixir of life with him.

Returning to Isabella, Clive's heart is broken to learn that she has caught the plague and there are but a few precious moments before she passes away in his arms (You're Here). Death appears to collect her prize but, instead, informs Clive that the Elixir has spread throughout the water system and that the plague has, against all odds, been cured. As a reward for his endeavour, she agrees to grant Isabella a reprieve.

All London celebrates the end of the disaster (So the Plague Was Cured). Clive and Isabella are re-united, the Alchemist and the Undertaker put aside their differences (it transpires they are actually brothers and have been engaged in a lifelong brotherly feud), and even Death seems content, allowing herself to be wooed by the ever-daring Jerry. It is the indefatigable Rat King who has the last laugh, however, for he has just begun the next London-wide calamity by starting a small fire in a certain Pudding Lane, the subsequent year's calamity of 1666 known as the Great Fire of London.

Song List[edit]

  • Oh London Town
  • I've Got It Made
  • The Elixir Of Life
  • Spend A Penny
  • Never Felt Like This Before
  • Coffin Of Your Past
  • The Rat King
  • Man and Rat
  • It's Bubonic
  • Someone To Blame
  • Pay The Piper
  • You're Here / So The Plague Was Cured


Critical reception[edit]

Plague! was generally well received with the British Theatre Guide calling it "an astoundingly good production"[4] and What's On Stage calling it "one of the most ridiculous, outrageous, over the top and watchable pieces of musical theatre in a long time".[5] The Herald called it "infectiously silly late night fun"[6] while The Stage commented "this is what you come to the fringe for".[7] Other positive reviews were found in View From The Stalls,[8] The Groggy Squirrel[9] and BBC Beds, Herts and Bucks.[10]

There also were some notable poor reviews with Broadway Baby branding Plague! "a mild rash"[11] and Fest Magazine commenting that Plague! was an "anarchic subversion of the musical tradition" imitated from the Rocky Horror Show.[12] Hairline commented that although Plague is a "good idea with nice enjoyable sections" that "more thought and work is needed to produce a musical that can play to a Fringe audience for such a long period and keep them engaged and enthralled".[13]

Plague! The Musical was awarded 2008 sell-out show status. It was also named a Mervyn Stutter 'Pick Of The Fringe'.[14]

U.S. Debut[edit]

Plague! The Musical opened for the first time to U.S. audiences on 18 October 2013 for a four show run.[15] Performed by the Marble Valley Players, Vermont's oldest, continuously operating community theater group, it debuted at the West Rutland Town Hall Theater in West Rutland, VT. During the second show, the cast and crew of the U.S. version of Plague! were treated to a special surprise visit by the writers, David Massingham and Matthew Townend.

Under the direction of Martin Bones, two of the shows reached sell-out status. The musical direction was led by Gary Schmidt, and Erika Schmidt directed the choreography.[16]

On November 9th and 10th, 2018, the show was performed at Ithaca College by “Theatrists Theatrics”— a student-run theater group. It was the first college production done of the show.


  1. ^ Plague! The Musical Questors Theatre Listing, July 2008
  2. ^ Remote Goat Event Information - Plague! The Musical
  3. ^ New production announcement on Plague website, 1 October 2009
  4. ^ British Theatre Guide Review, Graeme Strachan,August 2008
  5. ^ What's On Stage Review, Helen Raw,19 August 2008
  6. ^ The Herald Review, Shona Craven,12 August 2008
  7. ^ The Stage Review, Gerald Berkowitz,18 August 2008
  8. ^ View From The Stalls Review, 1 August 2008
  9. ^ The Groggy Squirrel Review, Ron Bingham,7 August 2008
  10. ^ BBC Beds, Herts and Bucks Edinburgh Fringe Feature, Judi Herman,13 August 2008
  11. ^ Broadway Baby Review, Ian Billings,9 August 2008
  12. ^ Fest Magazine Review, Frank Lazarski,18 August 2008
  13. ^ Hairline review of Plague! The Musical, Chris Kidd, August 2008
  14. ^ Sell-out and Pick Of The Fringe Announcements on Plague website
  15. ^ Plague! The Musical U.S. Debut, W. Rutland, VT, The Marble Valley Players Website
  16. ^ Plague! The Musical Vermont Public Radio (VPR), VPR Article and Audio Feature

External links[edit]