Surplus Women - new music theatre writing

October 2nd 2013 

Telling stories is one particularly powerful purpose of music and theatre. Stories from the past - from our history - offer a particularly pertinent use of the arts, a way of examining  what's come before us, where we've come from and how this might affect the world as we currently experience it.

When a talented team of writers approached us asking if we would workshop a new piece of music theatre for the amateur and youth market, we jumped at the chance, particularly when we heard the premise; with music by Jen Green (who has been seen playing piano with Starling Arts for over three years) book by Caroline Wigmore and lyrics from Blanche Girouard, 

Surplus Women 

is a show exploring a seminal but rarely talked about period of British history. 

Mrs Fawcett, an English suffragist

The 'surplus women' in this play with music set in 1918 are those left without husbands, jobs and equal rights following the end of the First World War. Shockingly these 'suplus women' represent a generation for whom only one in ten could ever hope to actually marry. To our modern eyes, this might not seem so shocking - until we consider how many women until this date had been coached solely to be wives and mothers. Many school leavers in 1918 were totally unprepared for a world outside of the domestic sphere generations of women had known before them. Thus, this period became a catalyst of great change for women across Britain, producing an unprecedented generation of female politicians, business women and social reformers. 

So script in hand, we gathered in a studio in South London with 10 women from the Starling Arts community made up of non-professional adults who love to perform. With the Starling Arts team leading the day - me directing and Anna overseeing music - we enjoyed a full day exploring the ideas and characters within the play, reading and playing with the script and songs, and enjoying time to reflect as a group. The writers were present, able to hear the lines and songs by real human voices as we explored different approaches to the world of their play.

As Anna and I discovered when we wrote


, our first musical writtern in 2011, creating a new piece of theatre is a tricky business, particularly where music is involved. It was fascinating to have be given an insight into this complex process and the pieces's development. Where will the play grow from here? How will the characters evolve, and which musical numbers will make the final cut? Our actresses were totally up for the challenge, embracing the fleeting experience and willing to 'play' with approaches and  ideas - we enjoyed the freedom to be able to spend a whole day without the pressure of an imminent performance,  immersing ourselves in a fascinating play.

Workshopping musical theatre is something Starling Arts are planning more of - both exploring new writing and existing pieces, giving our community of singers, and anyone else who's interested, the chance to explore stories, histories, and futures in a musical form with those curious and passionate about the participating in music that makes us feel, think and remember.


Contact Anna and Emily by emailing if you would like to discuss your new writing with us, or if you would like to participate in one of our workshops.