Preview: Dreamers

A long-gone Oldham nightclub was the source of shared memories and musical inspiration for two acclaimed theatre writers, says Kevin Bourke

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Cathy Crabb and Lindsay Williams are much-admired female writers and stalwarts of Manchester’s thriving fringe theatre scene. Crabb has picked up numerous awards for her tough but tender plays like Beautiful House and The Bubbler, as well as being closely associated early on with Studio Salford and the brilliant 24:7 theatre festival. BAFTA-nominated drama scriptwriter Williams, meanwhile, has clocked up over 80 episodes of prime-time TV drama including Emmerdale, Coronation Street and EastEnders and is a prime mover in the very successful JB Shorts.

The pair have now collaborated on a first for both of them, an original musical. Dreamers boasts original songs and 1990s indie classics interwoven into the story of a group of young girls who, every weekend, shake off the weekly grind with a night on the town. Twenty years on, the scattered group of woman hold mixed memories of those nights.

“The two of us had been at a writer’s group at the Oldham Coliseum, set up to encourage more professional writers from the North West to write for them,” Williams recalls. “We wanted to write something together but weren’t sure what to do. I was giving Cathy a lift back and on the way we went past where the old Dreamers club had been in Oldham. ‘Why not write something about this place?’ we thought after we realised that, although we didn’t know each other at the time, we’d both often been there.”

“We always had the idea that it was going to be about music and groups of women,” adds Crabb. “We knew we wanted to do something about female friendships but we also knew we wanted something a bit deeper than that.”
Their script started life as a play with some music but, after a rehearsed reading, they realised it made more sense as a musical even if that was a genre neither of them had ever worked in before.

“We didn’t want it to be a jukebox musical but we wanted elements of that 1990s music in there,” says Williams. “The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love, for instance, was always going to be in because it was such a significant song for time and place.”

Having enlisted composer Carol Donaldson for the original music, before trusting themselves to try writing lyrics, they got together a list of musicals they both liked, from classics like West Side Story to more contemporary favourites like Blood Brothers, right up to current hit Wicked.

“We were inspired by realising that they all had a lot of story in there, with huge plots, big emotions, big characters – life and death,” says Williams. “For a musical to really work, you have to care about the characters. Then, weirdly, the songs came quite easily. More than that, we absolutely love it.”

The musical is about nights out and Crabb emphasises that Dreamers should be exactly that. “We wanted it to be an event, with groups having drinks before and after, some music, all of that. Theatre shouldn’t just be this thing you see and then that’s that, the end of the night.

“For us, the best theatre nights are when it’s part of the night out and it can end up messy.”

Dreamers is at Oldham Coliseum on 19 June-4 July

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