Gaskell: The Musical! - by Pauline Eyre
Probably the most enjoyable and laughter filled few weeks I’ve had in a long time!
Pauline volunteers regularly, welcoming visitors to our period rooms and tea room. She was recently involved in ‘Gaskell the Musical’ project with enJOY arts & musician Claire Mooney.
In March when Erica and Naomi asked me to help with their next Enjoy Arts project, I was so flattered, I forgot to ask what the project actually involved. It was only when Claire asked me if I could sing that the penny dropped and I realised I had volunteered for a musical! More surprises followed. The musical hadn’t been written yet…. we were writing it and it was going to be performed in the ‘Manchester Histories Festival’ …dates and times clearly stated. What had I let myself in for? In short, probably the most enjoyable and laughter filled few weeks I’ve had in a long time!
The creation of the musical was an experience in itself. Over a period of about 6 weeks, the women came and went and it is fair to say few had any musical experience. The teacher in me began to panic. Would this musical ever get written? Would there be a stable cast to perform it? Nevertheless, Claire, Erica and Naomi remained calm, reassuring me that all would be fine, and they were absolutely right. By rehearsal week we had a musical and a committed and enthusiastic cast. It was amazing to watch Enjoy Arts and Claire motivate, encourage and coax these women. Some were very shy, others quite vocal, but all lacked confidence and only one was used to performing in public. So much had been achieved and it was very moving to see them stand up on the day and perform as they did, even in the rain.
At the outset little was known about Elizabeth Gaskell and 84 Plymouth Grove, everyone seemed a little in awe of her beautiful house. Yet as we wandered through the house or sat in the period rooms the initial wonder seemed to lapse and the group truly began to embrace Elizabeth Gaskell, her house and her stories. Our discussions were fascinating. At times Elizabeth Gaskell was given quite a grilling, her motives and her sincerity both questioned. Somehow she did not quite ‘fit’. Some of the women brought their own stories of Manchester and its language and history. Gossip and humour abounded. Elizabeth Gaskell would have been in her element. Yet this project didn’t just teach us about Mrs Gaskell, it gave us a chance to think about women, their roles and how the dilemmas they face then still remain now. My favourite scene was at the writing table when Mrs Gaskell agonised whether to write:
‘You are a good wife and mother why would you want anything more than that?’
‘You have a voice, use it!’
‘You have to think of your position as the minister’s wife’
I loved every minute of this production. We were all so proud of the final performances and enjoyed being cheered on by impromptu gatherings of passers-by and local residents as well as our real audiences. It was a joy to be part of the team that not just laughed a lot but was so kind and mindful of each other. Plymouth Grove provided a wonderful setting, Mrs Gaskell certainly shared her house Enjoy Arts -certainly deserve their name and ‘Gaskell The Musical’ proved that art is, and can be, enjoyed by everyone.
Image credit: Sangita Mistry