Youth theatre group to launch canal-inspired musical

Chesterfield Pomegranate Youth Theatre rehearsing for a play about Chesterfield canal. Emma Jones, Ellie Ward and Katy Dent.
Chesterfield Pomegranate Youth Theatre rehearsing for a play about Chesterfield canal. Emma Jones, Ellie Ward and Katy Dent.
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Major developments along the Chesterfield canal are the inspiration for a new play by the town theatre’s youth group.

Ambitious plans to create a marina in Staveley and transform a stretch of the canal in Chesterfield into a leisure and retail complex have triggered a work of artistic craftsmanship.

The play Cuckoo - which the Pomegranate Youth Theatre group will launch this month - has been a year-long project involving extensive investigation into the history of the canal.

Carole Copeland, founder of the theatre group, said: “Because of the waterway project, we thought it would be nice to research the stories of Chesterfield canal.

“A lot of the script is based on fact and folklore and celebrates the people who use the canal. It is one place where everyone can go, regardless of class.

“People have built it, worked it, used it, sailed on it, jogged it, walked their dogs, fished it, gone to market and lost their lives on it. The play ‘Cuckoo’ is just an echo of them and their stories, past, present, real and imagined.”

Carole and scriptwriter Sheila Young, who lives in Newbold, sourced material for their production from author Christine Richardson who has written books about the canal.

They also talked to a craftsman who is building a replica Cuckoo boat, a vessel which was unique to Chesterfield’s prime waterway and which gave the play its name.

Reports of heartache and humour were uncovered during their epic mission. “There was the Killamarsh ice disaster where children drowned in 1915,” said Carole. “And we found out about two brothers who were left a Cuckoo boat by their father in his will. They kept fighting over it, so it was sawn in half.”

Carole’s husband, Rob Laughlin, helped with research, has written five songs for the piece and joins Richard Stone as the professional actors in the cast which features 22 teenagers.

Communities throughout Chesterfield are supporting the dramatic interpretation of an important part of the town’s heritage.

The 50+ sewing group, which meets weekly at the Pomegranate, has stitched wildlife costumes and knitted vegetables. Sewing group member Maureen Riley, of St Helen’s Street, Chesterfield, said: “We wanted to repay the youth theatre because they taught us how to use mobile phones.”

The Prayer Shawl Ministry at Loundsley Green Methodist Church, whose members knit and crochet shawls for hospital patients, babies’ baptisms and and blushing brides, is contributing towards clothing the performers.

Cuckoo, the flagship of this year’s New Playwrighting Festival, runs at the Pomegranate, Chesterfield, from March 14-17.