With rehearsals in mid swing, tickets for Matchgirls are now on sale! All of our hard work means nothing unless we have an audience! Here is an outline of the story line and we hope to see you all there!
Summer, 1888 – London’s East End. The girls who work at the Bryant and May match factory are struggling – they’re paid a pittance and face constant fines. Kate (Rohini Rajendram) tries to keep their spirits up but it’s hard when money is tight and stomachs are empty. Even worse, they live with the constant threat of Phossy Jaw, a fatal illness caused by the phosphorus they use to make matches. Things get worse when the girls discover the factory management are stopping money from their wages to pay for a new statue of Gladstone. Suddenly, a stranger arrives: it is wealthy philanthropist Annie Besant (Tamsyn Murray). She offers to help publicise the terrible working conditions but the girls are distrustful, especially when Joe (Nick Haslam) fuels their suspicions. His self-centred attitude backfires, however; Annie and Kate decide to write an article about the matchgirls.
Polly (Kathy Cooper) and Kate share their frustrations about men. Kate bans everyone from attending the unveiling of Gladstone’s statue but cheers up when Perce (Chris Samuels) invites her and Polly for a night out. Then Mrs Purkiss (Lizzie Lambrianos) reveals that the factory will be closed for the statue unveiling, meaning the girls will not be paid. Instead of going on the la di dah, Kate disappears to cause trouble. Later, she can’t wait to tell Joe about the chaos she caused at the unveiling. He warns her that the management will have their eye on her now but she brushes off his concern and they share a romantic moment. Then, at Bert (Patrick Ashby) and Winnie’s (Susie Wellings) wedding, Dot (Paula Ranger) arrives with a copy of Annie’s article, giving Kate hope things are about to change. Kate and Annie exchange letters – the factory management want the workers to deny the article. The girls go on strike and Kate challenges Annie to help them. They set off on a march to Parliament. Joe reveals he plans to emigrate to America and asks Kate her to go with him but she abandons him to lead the march.
A week into the strike, Polly decides she’s had enough – she’s going hop picking. Just as she’s about to leave, Dot and Maggie (Jill Catmur) appear: Dot has been beaten up during an argument with some replacement workers bought over from Ireland. Polly leads the others back to the factory. Joe confesses to Kate that he’s been sacked from his job. Annie interrupts their tender moment, and an angry Joe refuses to listen to what she says. He insults her, causing her to leave. Kate runs after her, leaving Joe angry and confused.
Frustrated by the indifference of the newspapers, Annie asks Kate if she has drawn up a list of demands to give to the factory directors. Kate explains that the meetings have not been going well and Annie gives her a book on meeting procedure to help. Then she encourages Kate to tell her story to the crowds, in her own words.
Feeling neglected, Joe is flattered when Jessie (Freya Catmur-Hill) flirts with him. They talk about going to America together, until Kate interrupts. Joe demands that she chooses between him and the strike, reminding her that he’s leaving for America on Friday – with or without her. The matchgirls draw up their demands, using Annie’s book. Jessie arrives with a girl she insists helped to beat up Dot. Jessie is keen to teach the girl a lesson but Kate challenges Jessie to a fight instead. As the fists fly, Winnie is suddenly struck down in pain – the baby is coming.
Annie announces the directors have agreed to a meeting, on Friday. Kate realises she has a choice to make: go with Joe to America or attend the meeting. After a long, tense wait, Annie announces the directors have given in. Kate fears she has lost Joe forever. The future looks a little bit brighter for the matchgirls by the time the curtain falls.
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