Brand-new musical celebrates Hailsham

String!, a brand-new, specially-commissioned musical set in Hailsham and the surrounding area, gets to see the light of day for the first time in a special concert version for this year’s Hailsham Festival.

Tony Biggin
Tony Biggin

The idea is to stage the full version when circumstances permit, ideally next year, explains Hailsham-based composer Tony Biggin who worked on the piece with Brighton-based writer and lyricist Stephen Plaice, one of Britain’s leading librettists and writers for musical theatre.

Probably the most ambitious project the festival has undertaken in its 15-year history, the showcase concert of songs from the show featuring a dozen solo singers promises to be one of the highlights of the 2021 festival.

It takes place on September 18 in Hailsham Pavilion at 7.30pm (, with writer and broadcaster Roger McGough as the narrator.

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    The musical was to have been staged in 2020 but because of Covid-19 the theatrical production has been postponed until 2022.

    Tony said: “It was a germ of an idea, and we have a festival committee and we discussed it. It was warmly received but it was actually thought to be a bit ambitious. Eventually it was decided that we would fund-raise initially just to get it off the ground and then commission it, and the fund-raising went very well. We commissioned Stephen who is a very fine dramatic writer.

    “The title String! came fairly early on. Hailsham has a legacy and a history of making rope, and that legacy is of significance historically and also in the present day. There is a world-class rope-making company called Marlow.

    “The piece isn’t a documentary telling the history of rope-making in Hailsham, but it starts at the end of the 19th century, and there are three intertwining love stories there. We have got young Harriet and young Tom and they are back in the 1960s. We have also got them as their older selves, in middle age, and we have got a third person and there is a love story there as well. It is basically a device to take us through the past 120 years and allows us to draw on different musical styles. The central metaphor is string, something that binds the community together.

    “It was supposed to have been last October, and it was supposed to have been performed on stage with a large cast drawn from the community, but the fact that singing went overnight from being the healthiest thing in the world to the most toxic thing in the world stymied us in particular.

    “So now we are putting on what we call a showcase concert version. It is the songs from the show, just done as songs but with Roger as the narrator. Stephen has written a narration.

    “The plan remains that should circumstances allow and people get back on their feet, then next year we will reinvent the theatrical version and put that on. The idea is that this would be a staging post. We felt that we had to do something. We have been messing around with the idea for so long that we just wanted to do something. But even now we will be stymied to an extent by social distancing. Audience capacity is very restricted.

    “The Hailsham Festival has always been a very pro-am festival. It has always supported the local amateur writers and artists and performers as much as the professionals. We always try to get that mix.”