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School Production 2010 Beautiful Dreamer

We were delighted to welcome audiences to our very special 2010 school production as we celebrated the young life of one of Isleworth’s oldest residents and an era as fascinating for its hardships as for its innovations. Beautiful Dreamer was born out of a desire by myself and the then Head of Music, Richard Lake, to collaborate in the writing of a musical. We wanted to write a play that reflected the rich history of the Isleworth community. Gumley House School has been at the heart of this community for more than a hundred years and we wanted the girls to feel the connections between the past and the present right here in Isleworth where they spend the larger part of their week.

I had carried out an interview four years earlier with life-long Isleworth resident, Eileen Woodbridge (nee Lucy), for a Reminiscence Theatre project I was involved in with Year 10 girls. Eileen, then eighty-four, had a wealth of stories from her childhood in the late nineteen twenties and early nineteen thirties. They were poignant and funny, rich in detail and at times deeply moving. Not only were they personal stories of family life, but they had a deeper resonance. They revealed a spirit of that period between the two world wars that was challenging, changing and creative, not unlike the times we live in now.

At that time, life was hard for many as economic depression gripped and state social care didn’t exist. There was hardship and suffering for the poor, and the workhouse to end up in if you couldn’t cope. Despite this, and because of strength of character and strong extended family bonds, many of course survived and thrived. This was, after all, an era of technological advances that saw the first sound recordings of the big band music of the day. Wireless radios began to appear in people’s homes, with the likes of Al Bowlly, Britain’s first pop star, crooning over the air waves. Talking movies like The Jazz Singer were speaking out from the cinema screens, rivalling masters of the silent silver screen such as Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin’s rags to riches story was an inspiration to many in those hard times. Though by the thirties, Chaplin was a millionaire in Hollywood, persistently making his silent movies even as talkies clamoured to be heard, his Little Tramp figure walks through our play, emblematic of the importance of keeping hope in your heart and humour about you even when times are tough.

Eileen Lucy was brought up in these exciting times and recalled them for us with warmth and vigour when Richard and I spent several hours interviewing her last July. As she spoke we saw and heard the Thames as a working river, the dairy man and his horse and cart, the new fangled American shopping experience that was Woolworths, the steam train’s whistle, the smell of the hop fields of Kent, the flicker of the movie screen and the crocodile of Gumley girls emerging from those familiar gates.

Out of these experiences and many more we wrote our musical and we offered it as a piece of living, local history and a tale of a girl with spirit who soaked up the times she was brought up in, stored them safely in her memory, shared them generously with us so we could share them with the girls and our audiences.

The production was a great success with sold out shows after the first performance. This local tale touch our audiences profoundly. Many people who saw it said it should eb done again in the community. richard and I had been thinking along similar lines, and two years later in March 2012, the inaugral production of the Isleworth community play was Beautiful Dreamer, which you can learn more about in its dedicated gallery on this site.

Madeleine Casey

Writer, director and Head of Drama