The community which inspired artist Beryl will bring her paintings to life
Beryl Cook's characters are finally doing what they always looked likely to do: bursting out of the frame.
Sailors & Sweethearts lets them loose on the stage to celebrate Plymouth and the artist who captured so much of the city's vibrancy.
Fittingly, Plymothians are delivering the project.
The original work comes from the Theatre Royal Plymouth's People's Company, the amateur open group of city stage enthusiasts.
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As well as acting, they helped do the original research with writer and director Nick Stimson.
The award-winning Theatre Royal associate director is well versed in large-scale projects themed on the city: his previous work includes Union Street, the community show based on life in the clubland strip peopled with many sailors and sweethearts.
A stage show based on Beryl, who died in 2008, has long been in his mind.
"It is 13 years since Union Street so I felt the time was right," says Nick, who was instrumental in founding the company.
"I've always been aware of how important the work of Beryl Cook was to Plymouth and how important Plymouth was to Beryl Cook's work," he says.
He is fascinated by the way Beryl's work "captures people at the point of relaxation, but you suspect that around the corner there is great drama; lives are about to change. She takes ordinary people and values them.
"It had to be a People's Company show. Using professionals who weren't from Plymouth would just not have been right."
Research over the past year included gathering stories and anecdotes where Beryl and the people she painted liked to go to relax, the Barbican in general and the Dolphin pub in particular.
The result is the show which comes to the theatre's second space, the Drum, next week.
A woman who can't wait to leave Plymouth, another whose marriage has broken down and a washed-up drunk find themselves locked in the City Museum and Art Gallery where an exhibition of Beryl's work is about to open.
The three, who otherwise might never make a connection, discover that they have in common one of her works.
"They recognise characters from their past and realise the painting has captured a pivotal moment in their lives."
Nick's credits include ambitious projects such as the acclaimed musical Korczak, a wartime story from the Polish-Jewish ghetto, NHS The Musical and A Winter's Tale, which earned him an Off West End Award for best new musical earlier this year. But he says Sailors & Sweethearts presented his greatest challenge to date.
"One scene is set in the Dolphin for 45 minutes and has 23 people on stage at once – the most difficult thing I have ever directed," he says.
Sailors & Sweethearts runs from next Wednesday to Saturday March 16 at the Drum Theatre, Plymouth.