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.

1965 Leatherhead Theatre Club

1966 Globe Theatre[1]

The Matchgirls is a musical by Bill Owen and Tony Russell about the London matchgirls strike of 1888. It premiered at the Globe Theatre, London, on 1 March 1966, directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne.


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.

A cast recording was made, but there has never been a major London production. The musical was published by Samuel French Ltd in 1979.[2][3]


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]

Look at That Hat
Look Around
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
Life of Mine Reprise (Finale)

References and notes[edit]