Full of local interest, humour, pathos, suspense and – of course – inspiring music.

Review of Singers not Sinners

By Helen Rigby

Singers not Sinners is a new play, co-written by local writers Livi Michael and Carol Davies, and set in 1701. It’s the true story of the first three women in England to sing in a church choir, right here at St Mary’s Parish Church, Oldham.

At the start of the play we hear the male voices of the Christian tradition forbidding women to sing in church. But Elias Hall, played with humorous gusto by Ian Ball, has other ideas. The Bishop is coming to St Mary’s on Easter Day, and the all-male choir is frankly appalling – especially deaf Thomas Butterworth, played with excellent comic timing by Addie Raymond. Elias must overcome the opposition of his enemy, ultra-Puritan church elder John Taylor, in a menacing performance by Duncan Ross. Taylor’s supporters, vicar Richard Sugden (Neil Bamford), constable Jeremiah Bentley (Peter Dignam) and a bunch of local gossips all threaten Elias’s plans.

The women, singers and non-singers alike, are sensitively portrayed. Special mention should be made of Lisa Kay in the role of Alice Butterworth, down-to-earth church cleaner and loving wife of Thomas, and sweet-voiced gipsy Mercy Shaw (Kira Richardson). Verity Mann and Lauren Charnock are convincing as the musical Tetlow sisters who are eventually persuaded to support the other women.

The simple set, with Gothic arches and stone floor, is very effective, moving between church, domestic and tavern interiors, and the street scenes are played in the middle of the audience, really involving them in the story. The costumes are suitably plain and puritanical.

Musically the play is a delight, ranging from sacred music such as psalms and the Te Deum, to a bawdy tavern song: all credit to musical director Peter Wakefield and music arranger Daniel Hicks.

Director Carol Davies and the large, enthusiastic and talented cast have created a splendid production, full of local interest, humour, pathos, suspense and – of course – inspiring music.

Helen Rigby

Singers not Sinners is on from 4th-9th & 11th June at Millgate Arts Centre

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