New musical The Land of Might-Have-Been featuring music of Ivor Novello to premiere this summer

A new musical built around the songs of Ivor Novello will make its debut in 2023.

Co-produced by Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre, The Land Of Might-Have-Been is loosely based on incidents in the early life of Buxton’s pioneering feminist and pacifist Vera Brittain and the intriguing lives, loves and motivations of those closest to her.

With a book and lyrics by Michael Williams, the new musical follows another Buxton-inspired triumph, Williams’ award-winning opera, Georgiana. It will be directed by Kimberley Sykes, conducted by Iwan Davies, designed by Nicky Shaw with the music of Ivor Novello, including such lovely songs as My Dearest Dear, Waltz of My Heart, My Life Belongs To you and Why Is There Ever Goodbye, arranged with additional composition by Iain Farrington.

The story follows Vera and her soon-to-be fiancé Roland, and 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 in the battlefields, and she embarks on a life-long campaign for peace and equality. The musical’s epilogue sees Vera’s daughter, Baroness (Shirley) Williams, reflecting on her mother’s influential life

The cast will feature Audrey Brisson as Vera Brittain with Alexander Knox as Roland Leighton, George Arvidson as Edward Brittain and Kit Esuruoso as Bobby.

The Land Of Might-Have-Been premieres at Buxton International Festival on Friday, 7 July with follow-up performances until 21 July and then onto Norwich Theatre between 25 and 30 July.

Michael Williams said: “This is such an extraordinary story of love, hope, resilience and the rebellious spirit of young people. It throws new light on stories we thought we knew and also 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.”

Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre, Stephen Crocker added: “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.”

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About the author: Josh Darvill

Josh is Stageberry's editor with over five years of experience writing about theatre in the West End and across the UK. Prior to following his passion for musicals, he worked for more than a decade as a TV journalist.


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