Out & About

The Land of Might-Have-Been

Norwich Theatre has partnered with Buxton International Festival to co-produce their first-ever musical, The Land of Might-Have-Been, heading to Norwich Theatre Royal between 25–30 July

This brand-new musical is inspired by the early life of pioneering Vera Brittain, and the lives, loves and stories of those closest to her. Very much a modern woman, Vera Brittain was a writer, feminist, socialist and pacifist and her memoir Testament of Youth was one of the most famous memoirs of the 20th century, and this year marks the 90th anniversary of its publication in 1933.

The story follows Vera, her soon-to-be fiancé Roland, Vera’s brother Edward, and their close friend Bobbie, over a long hot summer in Buxton in 1914. They all have their own ideas about their glittering futures but are faced with the prejudice and conventions of their time.

Vera is determined not to become a traditional young married woman but wants to attend Oxford University and live an independent life. Her brother, Edward, dreams of becoming a musician and composer but must hide his secret love for Bobbie from his family and society. Roland wants to attend Oxford University and be an acclaimed poet, and Bobbie, forced to follow in his father’s footsteps, would rather search for a new way of life that would include Edward.

The war in Europe shatters all their hopes and dreams when Vera’s friends are killed on the battlefields, and she embarks on a life-long campaign for peace and equality. 

Commenting on the show Stephen Crocker, Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre, said: “This is a story of resilience, hope and the promise of youth, themes which are still hugely relevant today. In a fairer world, what might have been for these inspirational characters? We are delighted to be working with Buxton International Festival to bring this beautiful story to the stage.” 

The role of Vera Brittain will be taken by West End actor Audrey Brisson who has appeared in numerous musical theatre productions, including the title role in Amélie the Musical, for which she was nominated Best Actress in a Musical for Olivier Awards 2020 and Best Performer in a Musical for UK Theatre Awards 2019. Joining Audrey will be Alexander Knox, who plays Roland Leighton, Vera’s doomed fiancée. Alexander has appeared in A Merchant of Venice (Playground Theatre), Into Battle (Greenwich Theatre), The Tempest, Henry V (Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre York), The Silver Sword and the film Music, War and Love.

George Arvidson plays Edward Brittain, Vera’s brother, who courts death rather than face being court marshalled for his sexuality. Arvidson’s numerous West End appearances include Les Misérables, Evita and Carousel. Kit Esuroso will play Bobby, Vera’s friend and Edward’s secret lover. Kit recently won Best Actor for his role in AKONI for the Australian Screen and Industry Network Awards. 

Th musical is built around the songs of Ivor Novello, born the same year as Vera. Novello was a heavyweight in musical theatre, writing songs such as I Can Give You the Starlight, Rose of England, and We’ll Gather Lilacs. In fact, the period 1935 to 1950 was the Novello era in British musical theatre in much the same way that the 1970s and 1980s would later prove the Andrew Lloyd Webber era.

Commenting, Michael Williams, Chief Executive of Buxton International Festival, said: “The show brings together the parallel but separate lives of Ivor Novello, the most successful British musical theatre composer of the early 20th century and Vera Brittain, the author of the most powerful memoir of that time, Testament of Youth. Both young people were caught up in the tangles of forbidden love, war and terrible loss. It’s fitting and very poignant to be telling Vera’s story through Ivor’s beautiful songs.”

The Land of Might-Have-Been will be at Norwich Theatre Royal between 25 and 30 July. For more information or to book, visit norwichtheatre.org or call the box office on 01603 630 000.

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