A new musical play which was created and performed by young adults with additional needs has been hailed as a triumph.
More than 40 people of all ages from Chester and surrounding areas with a variety of additional physical, learning and emotional needs performed a new play entitled Patchwork Nativity to packed audiences at St Mary’s Creative Space in Chester city centre.
It was one of the highlights of the successful Christmas at St Mary’s programme which has attracted record audiences throughout November and December.
Audience members described the play as ‘truly wonderful’.
The original musical production told the story of an imaginary town which put on a play every year to mark the switching on of the Christmas lights.
In an unusual twist of events the people of the town turned up en masse to audition for the wrong play.
This great muddle in the plot provides the springboard for an explosion of comedy, dance, colour and music.
The production, which was described as ‘the start of something fantastic’ by its commissioners at Cheshire West and Chester Council, was the brainchild of Roisin Dunbar from Live! in Chester, an organisation which provides a wealth of cultural, educational and recreational services for young people.
Roisin said: “I realised there was so much potential in these people, and I really wanted to initiate something which lights a fire in them all and offers something aspirational.”
Roisin, also a dance artist, enlisted the talents of Matt Baker of Theatre in the Quarter to write and direct the piece.
Matt worked with the group from October at New Scene in Newton.
As each session developed, more people joined the company and the play was devised and rehearsed, including songwriting, script development and plenty of singing.
The success of the production also lies in the partnership with Alison Pitt and Pat Tripney of Art in the Place who generated a wealth of spectacular visual treats which formed a major part of the production.
Joe Sealy, a former student at Tarporley High School, played the lead role of Mr Christmas, a character who ran the local town choir and who annually produced the Christmas play.
Mr Christmas had decided to stage a version of the Nativity, but rumour had got out that he was looking for people to audition for roles in The Twelve Days of Christmas.
As the audition day ensued, Mary and Joseph arrived as Two Turtle Doves, three wise men were replaced by three French hens and sheep were replaced by dancing geese in The Twelve Days of Christmas while the director was planning on staging the Nativity.
The performance involved a range of songs and choreographed sections.
As an added bonus, the audience were treated to a mini Christmas concert after the interval which enabled several of the members to sing duets and solos, and encourage the audience to join in with them.
Matt Baker said: “I was astonished at the talents of our lead actor Joe, who really held the whole play together. His singing was sublime and he was full of creative ideas.
“The rehearsal process was a total joy. I began by simply getting to know all the people and having some fun singing.
“Once I realised what they were all able to do, I started to create the story which enabled every member to find their moment to shine, and they really did shine.
“We even found opportunity to write the opening song together which went down very successfully.”
Commissioning manager at Cheshire West and Chester Sam Murtagh said: “The young people and adults were fantastic and much credit to everyone involved - a very special evening and showed what everyone can do instead of focusing on what they can’t do - clearly the building blocks to change a culture if ever I saw it.”
Senior lecturer in drama in education at University of Chester Una Meehan said: “My heart truly melted watching the truly wonderful Patchwork Nativity; Matt Baker, you and the team are simply spectacular.”
Matt concluded: “This definitely is the start of something new. All of this has been made possible by the incredible vision, energy and commitment of Debi Whittaker, Roisin Dunbar and the amazing team at Live! and Art in the Place.”