Singers not Sinners – girl power 18th century style brings curtain down on Players’ season

THE Act of Settlement, excluding Catholic Stuarts from the British throne, was passed in 1701.

The same year sea captain turned pirate William Kidd was hanged while in Oldham a far godlier event took place that has remained largely forgotten until now.

Lisa Kay as Alice Butterworth, Lauren Charnock as Elizabeth Tetlow and Verity Mann as Mary Tetlow

Thanks though to writers Livi Michael and Carol Davies, plus the talents of Saddleworth Players, the momentous occasion that saw women sing alongside men in church for the first time is now celebrated.

Such has been the popularity of Singers not Sinners that just a handful of tickets remain for tonight’s penultimate performance (Thursday June 9) with returns only available on Saturday-the closing evening.

However, due to its subject matter and the carefully crafted creation of the co-collaborators, Singers not Sinners is surely destined for bigger stages and wider audiences.

It is an uplifting and fitting production to bring the curtain down on what has been a wonderful and varied season by the Players-their first full programme due to Covid since 2018-2019.

Singers chronicles the efforts of Elias Hall to assemble a choir for St Mary’s Church in Oldham suitably uplifting and pitch perfect enough to perform for both parishioners and high clergy.

It reveals the strength of opposition to women taking their place next to men but the strength of character by three anonymous female choristers to defy tradition and one-eyed prejudice.

Lauren Charnock, Lisa Kay and Kira Richardson in costume

Don’t, however, believe Singers is high on morals and religious zeal but low on entertainment. It is a powerful piece of fast-moving theatre that captivates its audiences.

While that is down to the dialogue, it is also down to some outstanding performances and voices.

Ian Ball-making his Players debut- portrays Elias Hall more sympathetically than contemporary descriptions of the ‘curmudgeonly’ choirmaster suggest.

Conversely, Duncan Ross’s puritanical headmaster John Taylor made old Ironside himself, Oliver Cromwell, look like a 17th Century dandy!

Richard Sugden, the vicar of the day caught in the crossfire between Hall and Taylor, is suitably vexed and ultimately defiant thanks to Neil Bamforth’s performance.

Ian Ball as Elias Hall

‘Satan’s Choir’ – as Taylor made out – comprises Kira Richardson as Mercy Shaw, Lauren Charnock as Elizabeth Tetlow and Lisa Kay as the redoubtable Alice Butterworth, the latter giving a more convincing and engaging a performance you’d struggle to find.

Space restricts a more fulsome cast valediction but all 16 performers, plus unsung crew members, ensured Singers not Sinners is a triumph. And you saw it first in Saddleworth!

• A charity evening production on June 5 raised £1,000 for Churches Together in Saddleworth.

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