New play based on a true Burton story is next StageScreen production

Our students will begin work on a new play when term starts on September 11.

The Godmother will allow them to develop skills in drama, comedy and musical theatre. It will also show them a new side of local history.

The play is closely based on the true story of Lily Thomas. She was a widowed mother-of-one from Burton who decided to organise support for local men taken prisoner during World War One. It has been written by local writer Elaine Pritchard. She first heard about Lily from local historian Malcolm Goode and knew it was a story she wanted to bring to life on stage.

Capturing the imaginations of local people

Principal Heather Gallagher said: “This going to be something very special indeed for our students this year!”

Over the summer, Elaine, Heather and StageScreen tutors Jack, Megan and Tilley read through the play in the inspiring surroundings of The Trinity, George Street, Burton. This is also where the students will perform the play on December 9 and 10.

An interior shot of The Trinity, Burton Three people stand in the former pulpit of The Trinity

Elaine said: “I’m already being asked when tickets will go on sale. I’m delighted that Lily’s story is already capturing the imagination of local people.”

Details of how to buy tickets will be available during the autumn on this website as well as on Lily’s own Facebook and Twitter channels.

Lily’s actions saved many lives

The play includes songs that were popular between 1914-1918 as well as a new music hall-style song.  Elaine explained: “Lily and a band of loyal volunteer helpers organised and despatched 25,750 parcels of food, clothes and medicines to Burton prisoners in Germany during the four years of the war. So I’ve written the lyrics for a new song that celebrates the array of essentials and treats that she collected and put into these parcels.

“She faced criticism and a tidal wave of red tape – but she persevered. Raising money was hard and there were many times when funds were almost exhausted. But Lily never gave up. Her faith in what she was doing was justified when many returning soldiers swore that she had saved their lives.”

Following in Lily’s footsteps

Lily Thomas of Burton

Today, the Trinity is a popular entertainment and wedding venue and a small business hub. Originally, it was the George Street United Methodist Church. Trustees from the church were staunch supporters of Lily’s fund for Burton prisoners of war. Lily herself attended a thanksgiving service at the church in December 1918.

Heather said: “We will literally be stepping in Lily’s footsteps when we perform the play at The Trinity.”

StageScreen students will be auditioning for parts in the show during September. There are still opportunities for new students to join us. Parents can use this form to request a free morning’s trial session.

StageScreen to perform new play about World War One hero Lily Thomas

Lily Thomas play The Godmother

StageScreen pupils are to premiere a new play, The Godmother. It’s the story of Lily Thomas, a forgotten World War One hero from our home town of Burton-on-Trent.

Lily was a widow living in Stapenhill with her young daughter Marguerite when war broke out in 1914.

By the time the war had ended, helped by local volunteers, she had sent out 25,750 parcels to Burton men held prisoner in Germany. Soldiers reported that the parcels of food and medicines saved many lives.

The play has been researched and written by Elaine Pritchard. She first heard about Lily Thomas from local historian Malcolm Goode.

Fighting red tape and opposition

Elaine said: “I was captivated by the story of Lily Thomas. Malcolm has written about her in the Burton Mail, but that’s all I’ve ever seen about her in the town.

“At a time when women were still years away from winning the vote, she set about making a difference and fought miles of red tape and opposition.

“She was determined and clever and set up an amazing communication network with soldiers. This meant that she became the ‘go-to’ person for families wanting news about their sons, husbands and brothers.”

Students from StageScreen had the chance to read through scenes from the play at their Saturday morning class on May 1. To comply with covid capacity regulations, some students were at Trentside Studios and joined the readings by Zoom.

Reding The Godmother play about Lily Thomas

The play is called The Godmother because that was the nickname the Burton prisoners gave to Lily Thomas. She called them her godsons.

Elaine was able to track down a rare copy of a memoir that Lily self-published in 1920. She also researched articles that Lily Thomas wrote in local newspapers.  This means that the play covers many real-life events in Burton during the years of the First World War.

Outspoken and blunt

Elaine said: “It’s strange to think that 100 years ago, everyone in Burton would have known who Lily was. Today, she’s largely forgotten.”

“When the war ended, and honours were handed out to people who had contributed to the war effort, nothing came Lily’s way. It’s clear that she didn’t suffer fools gladly and maybe the men who ran things felt she was too outspoken and blunt. She was focused on helping her ‘godsons’ and I don’t think she cared much if she upset anyone who stood in her way.”

The play also includes popular songs from the period and an original music hall-style song written by Elaine.

We can’t wait to bring the story of Lily, and the people she worked with, to the stage in December this year. You can find out more about Lily on the Facebook Page  LilyThomas.TheGodmother.

A busy 18 months ahead

Performing The Godmother is just one of a host of exciting events our students will be working towards each term over the coming 18 months.

StageScreen forthcoming events

Firstly, in July 2021 we will be filming our production of Sister Act Junior before streaming it online. Thanks to everyone who has made this possible by contributing to our Crowdfunder.

Next, after the summer holidays, we’ll be rehearsing The Godmother ahead of its premiere in December 2021.

Thirdly, in March 2022, we’ll be performing a variety and sketch show. In July 2022, the end-of-term event will be a film festival showcasing work by students in front and behind the camera.

Finally, in December 2022, we’ll be performing a hit musical! That’s staying under wraps for a while longer, but we can say we are THRILLED to have secured the licence for this great show.

If you know any 4-18 year olds who would like to be involved in these projects, please do get in touch.