WAOS' Centenary show, based on the True story of James Cooke and the Witham fires of 1828.
Bonfire night, November 1828, and the people of Witham revel in celebrations until fires break out at barns either side of Newland St, Witham. Unbeknown to sweethearts James Cook & Betty Goodwin, the flames are about to change their lives forever.
When James is wrongly accused of starting the fires, Betty and the community rally round to provide support. Will justice prevail? Will the interrogators listen to reason? And when will the flames burn out?
This moving story is written by Sarah Osborne in collaboration with WAOS members with a full folk style score by Franky Garland and orchestration by Phil Toms.
I was warmly welcomed at Front of House by Kathy Sherlock.
This was a new and challenging musical written specifically for the society as they celebrate their centenary this year. Full length and based on historical events it brings to life the fires raging in Witham in 1828/9 and the tale of local farmhand, James Cooke. The excellent script was intriguing and fast moving and held the attention of the audience throughout. The music throughout contributed to the storyline and was superbly delivered.
The set was multi purpose depicting several scenes eg courthouse, pub, church with good entrances and exits. There were lots of props ie chairs, tables, trestles moved on and off the stage to denote scene changes and the stage crew did a sterling job of moving around unobtrusively.
The opening number, Witham's Ablaze, was lively with the full company onstage.
Without exception, the entire cast played their characters with skill, interpreting the roles well and in particular all the new songs, some of which were quite demanding to sing.
There were stellar performances from Meg Abbott, as Betty Goodwin, Dannii Carr as James Cooke, Emma Loring as Dorcas Cooke, Justine Ephgrave as Harriet Hayles and Ben Rolph as Will Cooke. Emma and Justine had a strong duet “This Can't Go On” which impressed.
Here were some excellent male actors, including Matthew Waldie as Rev Newman, Ron Howe, as MP Charles Western, Trevor Drury, as William Green, Tim Clarke as William Wright Luard, Gary Rolph as William Whale, Stewart Adkins as Peter DuCane III, Richard Herring as William Hutley and Michael Mundell-Poole as Franklyn Waters.
Hazel Hole, MBE
Further to the comments from the WAOS President in the programme about the background of this production, the group took an artistic and financial risk to celebrate their Centenary. However, it was a challenge met with considerable success by this enterprising and talented society. Franky Garland’s score was tuneful and often moving, beautifully orchestrated by Phil Toms, and Sarah Osborne’s book and lyrics told the true story with depth and compassion. Well done!
Anne Sexton & Andrew Hodgson (Adjudicators)
The story is one that sounds more like fiction than fact but fact it was. During a night of celebration on Bonfire night, 1828, arson attacks occurred at local farms. Such was the concerns amongst the landed gentry that they asked local magistrate, William Wright Luard to be in charge of the investigation. Finally they charged a young boy of sixteen, James Cook. Although he was later found to be completely innocent, because of peoples prejudices a miscarriage of justice occurred and he was hanged for the crime. Later it was found that his friend, bad boy, Edmund Potto was responsible, found guilty and subsequently transported to Australia for life.
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