Don’t miss Eastern Angles’ town planning drama (no, really)

Parkway Dreams, by Eastern Angles, is musical docu-drama about the town planning of Peterborough. Ph

Parkway Dreams, by Eastern Angles, is musical docu-drama about the town planning of Peterborough. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

The story of how a small, historic Fenland city turned into a buzzy New Town may sound, well, a little dry. Not so, discovers Wayne Savage

It's at Ipswich later this month before hitting the road. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

It's at Ipswich later this month before hitting the road. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

After the Second World War, planners and politicians had no idea where the new homes and towns the country needed were going to come from. What would they look like, where would they be built, how would they overcome opposition to expansion from existing areas like Ipswich?

“When I tell people I’m in a musical docu-drama about the town planning of Peterborough they go ‘oh’,” laughs new cast member Rosalind Steele.

“When I got the script I didn’t have a clue what was going on and thought ‘how on Earth are they going to put this on stage’. There’s a lot of historical stuff, political stuff but when you put it together...

“Genuinely the show works, it’s got some really nice comedy, they’ve used the idea of telling the story via the medium of 1970s game shows which might sound bizarre but again it’s a really delightful way to tell the story.”

Penned by EastEnders’ writer Kenneth Emson with original songs by Simon Egerton, she says Parkway Dreams is even more politically revelvant now than it was when it first toured in 2013.

“People are talking about the housing crisis in London right now and about the 1970s when the new towns were built. It’s interesting the parallels going on. It’s not just about people who live in Peterborough, it has a much wider spread than that.”

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Using the voices of those who remember the development in Peterborough during that time, residents and workers alike, at the heart of the multi-strand story are typical London overspill family Mary, Jack and Peter. It’s that which resonated with audiences outside the area first time around, says director Ivan Cutting.

Families are torn apart, new friendships forged and then there’s the universal upheaval of moving home.

“We were surprised how well it went down when we took it outside Peterborough and brought it to Ipswich and up to Halesworth and various other places. It’s about 1960s optimism and 1980s pessimism really that really covers this whole development period,” he laughs. “Ipswich was very nearly a new town, I’ve got a document with all the references to Ipswich crossed out and Peterborough written in.”

This second tour has been made possible thanks to lottery funding via the Arts Council, aimed at encouraging strategic touring which is all about making the audience the focus of the piece.

Returning cast member Matt Ray Brown says: “One of my friends who went to see it on the last tour said it was a really touching but also very surprising show and I think that’s from some of the facts and figures we present in that comical way hit home a little bit more than if you said ‘that’s the number of people who moved’.”

He too says the play is as relevant today as it was then.

“Countless towns and cities have been developed, new housing estates tacked on... Then there’s certain resistance by parts of the community to having an influx of people, how’s the town going to cope?”

Parkway Dreams runs September 30-October 3 at Eastern Angles’ Sir John Mills Theatre; October 17 at Braintree Arts Theatre, and October 23-24 at Colchester’s Mercury Studio Theatre.

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