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Page to Stage

by Janice Irving

Back in 1999, novelist Carol Clewlow - a regular tutor of creative writing at BRIC - suggested running a course that would enable local writers to develop their dialogue and script writing skills - writing ‘real conversation’ into their work and appreciating what happens when words come off the page and are taken onto the stage. A one-off course, a simple idea, but one that didn’t stop there.

The idea just grew until we had Page to Stage - an exciting collaboration between BRIC and the Phoenix Theatre with support from the University of Newcastle and Blyth Valley Arts Development; an annual event drawing together the work of BRIC’s writers and songwriters led by Carol Clewlow and songwriter Pete Scott and presented on a one night performance by Phoenix actors under the direction of RSC associate director Piers Ibbotson.

Some of the writers with Carol Clewlow
Over the past four years Page to Stage has grown from weekend workshops into week-long master classes - bringing together the skills and talents of local people committed to writing for and performing local theatre. With so much energy and enthusiasm building up each year, Page to Stage realised it could achieve bigger and better things. The writers wanted to create a production that the company could perform more than once, so with this purpose in mind they began searching for an appropriate theme for this new work.

With so much interest in local history, it was inevitable that the writers turned to the town’s archives and the local history society for inspiration - where they discovered a wealth of stories and characters from the town’s colourful past, and where they unearthed the story on which The People Must Pay is based.

The title page of Scribe Fraser’s pamphlet - click if you’d like to see it all
Title from Scribe Fraser’s pamphlet
Catalogued amongst yellowing maps, old photographs, historical records and newspaper cuttings, they found a copy of the Comic Official Programme for the Jubilee Day at Blyth - penned by local writer John ‘Scribe’ Fraser lampooning how the town ‘will’ celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee of 1887. This satirical publication could not be overlooked - it suggested a time when the pits were on strike, children were dying of a measles epidemic and the town was in poverty - and people were expected to celebrate! All the makings of an epic.

However, the scale of production envisaged was certainly greater than could be created through Page to Stage workshops. Consequently BRIC and Arts Development approached the Heritage Lottery Fund for support, resulting in the development of We Are Not Amused - a year-long project celebrating Blyth’s Victorian Heritage beginning with the production of The People Must Pay.

This was a very exciting and unique project involving many partners, volunteers and practitioners.

The scale of the project was ambitious, but the collective capacity and commitment to make it work is rooted in our community’s pride in wanting to recognise and promote the town’s colourful history.
Rehearsals in progress

Songs from The People Must Pay are available on CD via our Contact page

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