The Wind Road Boys
By Rob Nichols
Tuesday 16 Aug 2016 16:49:00
Browse all Drama articles
Three years ago I bumped into an old mate on facebook and he told me about a musical he was involved in at Durham Gala Theatre. At that point I didn’t know anything about the extraordinary story behind either the show or the theatre company. I went along without any preconceptions except for the fact I don’t normally like musicals at all. Yet I was completely and utterly blown away by the Wind Road Boys, words and music written and scripted by Thornaby lad Paul Flynn and directed by Andrea Mallan. The cast included some west end professionals but drew heavily from a children’s community scheme based in Ferryhill, County Durham.

I had no idea at all that most of those on stage, singing, dancing, acting, were from an education project based in south-central County Durham. What an amazing achievement from them all. This is a chronicle of the battle for the heart and indeed minds of a deprived post industrial community. The rediscovery of an individual’s story of family misfortune and quiet heroism inspired and brought back focus and offered hope and direction to a faltering community.

There was humour, song and dance as well as heartache. Teesside court usher Ian Richardson was stupendously funny, playing many a hilarious character. At the end there was a lengthy standing ovation and probably not a dry eye in the house.

Last week I caught a reprise of the show at Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre and once again I was astounded by the quality of acting, story line and general production. The big cast included young children from as young as four. Everyone had roles to play and performed them admirably well in a drama around the Wind Road Boys, the children employed on long and dangerous shifts to sit at the bottom of the bit and open ventilation doors.

The back story behind the show is that of a lost heritage. The kids of the Ferryhill CIC community interest company drama group no longer knew about the mining history from which their township sprang and were sent out to question their grandparents. The Wind Road Boys unearths the hidden heroes, the former glories, the appalling losses and personal tragedies but the enduring spirit of their ancestors. One of the choral anthems for the musical is The Light Shines On, written by Paul Flynn it beautifully captures it all in one big out pouring of emotion.

Music and song can be a good vehicle to convey the stories and indeed the spirit of former times. Striking a chord to help rebuild community feeling and bolster pride of place, threatened by industrial closure and decline.

We so easily forget, don’t we? If we look at Teesside, in a generation’s time who will remember that we were once virtual company towns for ICI. What memorial is there to the legacy of ship building on the Tees. Or indeed who put the iron in ironopolis?

It is so important that folk musicians, in particular the late great Graham Miles, have chronicled so many industrial tales in their writing. Credit to Cattle and Cane for continuing this tradition with Infant Hercules and their new tribute to the Cleveland Hills.

The Wind Road Boys is a quite remarkable musical. It stirs the emotions and sets you thinking. At Hartlepool, the final curtain was the cue for another rapturous but misty eyed standing ovation. I hope it is not another three years before I see this quite inspirational musical again.


Robert Nichols


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