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PlayWell Productions brings RNLI bicentenary musical With Courage to London

Lifeboats News Release

A story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, putting the lives of others before their own: With Courage is a new feel-good folk musical celebrating the history and sacrifice of people saving lives at sea in our coastal communities.

Dave Buttle.

With Courage was written by play write and RNLI supporter, Jon Hare.

Written by Jon Hare and presented by PlayWell Productions, With Courage's run of performances in London coincides with the 200th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

PlayWell is a professional theatre company that works with artists to bring fresh new stories to audiences across the country. It is an official theatre partner for the RNLI as it celebrates its bicentenary, and 146,000 lives saved, in 2024.

The show is directed by the award-winning Charlotte Westenra, and brings together lifesaving stories from across two centuries: Witnesses to a tragedy in 1886, Charles and Marion Macara unite to support a town in grief, inspiring a nationwide movement. Current day navigator, Shannon, grapples with her place amongst her family's long legacy of life-saving; when disaster looms, she and her coxswain father Eddie must race against time to save a life. In two hundred years, the same question remains - how far will you go to save a stranger?

The show will be performed at The Other Place in London on September 17-22. It has been developed using research plus interviews with RNLI volunteers and crew. PlayWell took test performances out to audiences across the South Coast in 2023, and hope to bring the full show back to them and others in 2025.

Running alongside the show, as part of the RNLI’s Sing to Save Lives project and in partnership with ChoirCommunity.net the team have provided a free of charge community choir arrangement of their title song With Courage. To date, over 3,000 copies have been downloaded by over 115 choirs. This month, 12 choirs came together to perform the song in Milton Keynes at an event arranged by The Milton Keynes Community Choir and Hastings audiences will see HarmonyOne community choir join the cast onstage at three public sharings of some of the songs at the end of the month. The choral arrangement for With Courage, along with many others, can be downloaded from https://www.choircommunity.net/library/rnli-200

Jon says: ‘I've always been fascinated by the many stories of absolute courage shown by lifeboat crews from past to present day, and how ordinary people were prepared to be extraordinary in launching into all kinds of conditions to try to help others in need, whether the likes of Grace Darling and her dad, the crew of the Solomon Browne, and the stories I learnt as a kid on holiday in Salcombe about their boat lost in 1916 with just two of the crew surviving. For me, living inland, the lifeboat is synonymous with the coast, the orange and blue boat as much a part of visits to the seaside as fish & chips. When I realised the bicentenary was approaching, I just felt I had to write a show that reflected the history, courage, and sacrifice of lifeboat communities across the years, and it had to be a musical.

‘Connecting with various RNLI volunteers and staff during the research for With Courage has really shown me what a lovely community the RNLI is. Every station I've visited, every person I've spoken to, has been incredibly welcoming and warm in offering advice, stories, and helping us shape and develop this show. From the shop volunteer, the fundraisers, through to the shore and lifeboat crews, I've been made to feel one of the family from the outset, which is kind of humbling for a fairly modest supporter like me. And the first time I stepped into a pair of borrowed yellow wellies to join a training launch in Sennen Cove will stay with me forever.’

Director Charlotte Westenra added: ‘I wanted to be a part of With Courage when I first heard the music from the show. It was direct, powerful and emotional and told an important story- how ordinary people do extraordinary things to help strangers in need. This show offers more than just a good night out at the theatre. It marks a moment in the history of the RNLI - a celebration of past, present and future of 200 years of protecting people at sea.’

Anjie Rook RNLI Associate Director, who is overseeing the RNLI’s 200th anniversary programmes, said: ‘We are incredibly grateful to PlayWell Productions for supporting the RNLI with their musical With Courage which will be performed in London in September, particularly as we celebrate our bicentenary in 2024.

‘For 200 years, it is people who have made the RNLI what it is – from our brave volunteer lifesavers who risk their lives to save others, to the committed fundraisers and generous event organisers and donors – events like these are crucial to funding our 24/7 lifesaving service.’

PlayWell’s mission is to commission and develop stories that are still not currently given space on our stages. They provide high quality producing support to artists whose voices are not heard loudly enough.

With Courage is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Sylvia Waddilove Foundation, Lighthouse Poole, New Theatre Royal Portsmouth, Mercury Theatre, and Spun Glass Theatre.

Notes to Editors

Photos

A collection of images can be downloaded from this link )no login required). https://source.rnli.org.uk/share/C2995DFB-5288-4B78-BEB1C606B493A95B/

CREATIVE TEAM

Jon Hare - Writer / Composer / Lyricist

Jon’s other shows include ‘80s jukebox musical Charming, First World War musical Never Again, and children’s show The First Chris Moose.

He currently works at Guildhall School of Music and Drama as Outreach Project Manager for Production Arts. Previous roles over the past 14 years include for the National Theatre, Young Vic, Roundhouse and Assembly Festivals.

Jon has a BA (Hons) in Theatre Practice from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Jon is a Governor member of the RNLI.

Link to website: www.jonhare.com

Charlotte Westenra - Director & Dramaturg

Olivier award-winning director & dramaturg. Credits include The Agreement by Owen McCafferty (Lyric Theatre Belfast; IAC New York); The Wicker Husband by Darren Clark & Rhys Jennings (Watermill Theatre); and Indecent Proposal by Michael Conley & Dylan Schlosberg (Southwark Playhouse).

Mary Erskine - Musical Director

As well as being one half of the composing team for the acclaimed Gobin Theatre (The Lost Spells, Watford Palace Theatre, Polka Theatre & Theatre by The Lake; The Instrumentals, Southbank Centre) Mary is a classically trained pianist and cellist and acclaimed singer/songwriter, under the name Me For Queen. As Me For Queen she has toured the UK & Europe and has had her songs played on BBC 6Music, Radio 3, Amazing Radio, BBC Scotland & BBC Wales.

Jake Alexander - Community Choir Lead

Jake is a Cornish musician who studied composition at Trinity College of Music. He directs several choirs, including Raised Voices, a political protest choir. He specialises in writing accessible, three-part, a cappella arrangements of folk songs, pop songs & sea shanties.

Elizabeth Peace - Assistant Producer

Elizabeth Peace is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and producer from South London. With a degree in Politics, Philosophy & Economics, and an Acting Diploma from the Oxford Drama, she pursues projects across stage and screen. She has taught workshops at Greenwich University and East 15 Acting School, and previously worked with Contact Theatre, 53two, tiata fahodzi, Talawa, PlayWell Productions, and Slick Films. She's currently Associate Artist at Bathway Theatre, Trustee at Angel Shed Theatre, and Administrative Producer at HighRise Entertainment.

Steph Weller for PlayWell Productions - Commissioning Producer

PlayWell Productions works to elevate visibility and give equality of opportunity and voice to artists and their stories. These stories include (but are not limited to) the voices of: isolated communities; the queer lived experience; women and those who identify as non-binary; those who identify as disabled; and the lived experience of people of the global majority.

Commissions and credits include Very Special Guest Star, Omnibus Theatre London; I Ain’t Dumb, Belgrade Theatre Coventry; Live To Tell: A Proposal for the Madonna Musical, Omnibus Theatre London, Camden People’s Theatre London; Black Power Desk, Brixton House London. Company founder Steph Weller is an Old Vic 12 and Stage One producer, who has previously produced the award-winning Reading Fringe Festival and the Fizzy Sherbet Podcast, promoting work by women playwrights. She has worked for companies including MAYK, Reading Rep and Inspector Sands. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors for IronClad Creative (Brighton), a disabled-led not-for-profit cultural organisation that provides training, networking and commissioning for writers and theatre-makers, especially those who are neurodivergent, and those with low incomes. Steph is supported by China Plate via their Dark Room scheme.

Website: www.playwellproductions.co.uk

FEATURED ELSEWHERE

Material from the show has been featured on the Making A Musical Podcast from The Other Palace (https://shows.acast.com/6409dd6ef918780011ce7736/653ff323bfecf80012a5bcfc) and on BBC Cornwall (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0hj2dmz).

SOCIALS

Follow the show @WithCourageShow on Instagram and X

Follow PlayWell @playwellprods on X and Facebook

RNLI Media Contact:

Beth Robson, Regional Communications Manager (Bicentenary), [email protected] 07977728294.

Pamela Raith

Charlotte Westenra is director of With Courage

PlayWell Productions

Music for the With Courage RNLI musical was organised by musical director Mary Erskine.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.

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