Two weeks ago the Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield was packed with old Treborites, there to see a new musical called The Candy Girls. Carole Copeland and the Pomegranate created this show about working at the old Trebor factory in town. They gathered stories from people who’d worked there, then brought in a professional writer and composer to help create a show that was largely performed by teenagers from the town.
It was a big production. The Pomegranate’s a Victorian theatre that seats 550 people – and it was packed on the Sunday I went. The cast looked at least twenty strong, plus a whole bunch of musicians. Together they acted out a series of funny sketches, and sang a few original songs. There were also video clips of factory workers talking about their experiences there. It was all very polished.
My favourite song was Candy Girl, which they sang just before the interview. It was very moving. I hope they can record it in some way so more people can hear it. Likewise the opening song Trebor Quality Sweets.
They caught perfectly the banter that emerges among people who work together. The women were always playing games on new recruits, especially if they were men. For example, they’d ask a nice young man to carry a heavy bag of sugar then, when his hands were full, they’d pull his trousers down. These women were rough and proud of it. They tended to find a sexual element in whatever they talked about – ‘I’d rather suck a lemon’ was pretty typical of the script.
There was plenty of bunking off. There was worker solidarity against an unthinking supervisor and some mild ribbing of senior management – especially in a funny scene about growing tomatoes in a warm part of the factory. On the other hand the manager was shown to known everyone’s name and quite often people described the factory as a big family.
In one moving section, someone described how Hilda Clark had put them forward to enter the Candy Queen competition. They’d never thought of taking part, ‘but Hilda saw something in me’ and it changed her life. In the theatre foyer you could see a lovely replica of the dress worn by Margaret Jones as Candy Queen, made by the Pomegranate Sewing Group.
The show ended with all the cast dressed up for a night out. The back drop lifted to reveal a rock band which played a few numbers while the cast danced on stage. All in all, it was a fabulous bit of theatre, hugely enjoyed by the large audiences who came to see it. I hope that Carole and her team are able to take this production further, as I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy seeing it, especially the songs.