Writers of Women of Steel musical set their sights on a Sheffield premiere

A major new musical about the lives of Sheffield's wartime women could receive its premiere in the city, its co-writer has said, after an initial showcase performance received a 'fantastic' response.

Wednesday, 18th October 2017, 16:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:02 pm
Tim Kellett, Rosie Doonan and Tim Nye

The Canary Girls has been inspired by the city's famous Women of Steel, who kept the munitions factories and steel mills going in both world wars and whose efforts were commemorated last year with a permanent statue in Barker's Pool.

The musical is completely written but remains at an early stage of development. Last month the first act was performed in front of influential theatrical figures in London, in a bid to generate interest and attract funding. Two representatives from Sheffield Theatres and city council director Mick Crofts were in attendance.

Workshops under way for The Canary Girls

Tim Nye, a retired police detective who owns Marmadukes Café Deli on Norfolk Row and has co-written the book, said an important meeting will be held in mid-November to discuss the prospect of premiering the work in Sheffield, where the story is set in the 1940s.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"We'd ideally like to do it at the Crucible," said Tim.

"The meeting will be really important. The showcase went fantastically well. Everybody who saw it from Sheffield really loved it, so fingers crossed."

He has been writing with Tim Kellett, formerly of Simply Red. Kellett and singer-songwriter Rosie Doonan are responsible for the music and lyrics, and Tara Finney is producing.

Workshops under way for The Canary Girls

The tale follows three young women, Niamh, Boo and Alma, who find an escape from humdrum everyday life through wartime swing music. The 'canary girls' were the UK's first TNT shell makers in World War One. The nickname came about because the explosive is toxic, and repeated contact can turn the skin a shade of yellow, similar to a canary's feathers.

Tim said the surviving Women of Steel wanted to see a local performance. "It'll save them travelling to London. It's a Sheffield story and it should be in Sheffield."

Sixteen original songs have been composed, but some of the numbers might not be heard outside the rehearsal room.

"The key thing with any musical, and any play, is they get rewritten constantly. I was speaking to one writer a couple of years ago and he said between one performance and the next they had cut six songs. Sometimes that can happen. The next stage is to identify a venue, and obviously funding is always an issue so we're looking into that."

Cosmetics company Lush has provided some development funding, said Tim.

"They've invested some money to get us going, but we'd like them to be partners going forward."

The workshops for the musical had a cast list including some impressive names such as Katie Brayben, best known for appearing as Carole King in the stage show Beautiful. Tim hopes they will stay on board.

"We've got to develop act two and we would like to show it in Sheffield next time. From speaking to the performers, it's much more difficult for them to come all the way here. But everybody we spoke to, if time permits, would love to come up and do it, particularly because some of the Women of Steel can see it then. Maybe we'll showcase the whole thing next time, not just act two."

The idea of launching the musical next year was perhaps 'too optimistic', said Tim.

"Lots of things still need to change. The earliest we can hope for is 2019."