Below Stairs

By Trevor Pilling and Alan Lewis

After 14 stage productions and one concert version, the 1914 musical Below Stairs is gradually winning fans and audiences, helped by a believable storyline and memorable melodies. Premiered in 2002 in Chesham, the show was written by Trevor Pilling with a score by Alan Lewis, who found composing helped take his mind off a series of three life-threatening cancers (colon, liver and lung). Because of this the writers decided to offer the show free of royalties and instead to ask simply that money be raised for Cancer Research UK: as a result, the last 12 productions have generated more than £7000 for the cause.

This June will see the 15th production. It is being put on in Old Windsor by the Riverside Players whose first production was exactly ten years ago. Since the, according to director Kay Smith, there has been a steady stream of requests from members of the cast and audience alike for a repeat production as it was enjoyed so much in 2004. In fact, this will be the second time that a society has chosen to repeat the show, as Utopian Operatic Society staged it in 2004 and again in 2007.

Below Stairs is a story of servants’ lives in a large London home in 1914 at the start of the First World War. The central character is lady’s maid Lucy Ambleside, an intelligent and ambitious woman with a gift for mimicry. Local PC Tom Snodgrasse would marry her tomorrow but she has ideas above her station and inveigles herself to a society ball as an American heiress where she meets the Hon Edward Waterflower, an apparent gentleman. But, like Lucy, he turns out to be seeking a good marriage to set him up in comfort.

Lucy then secretly lands herself an occasional spot with the local impresario on her day off and, thanks to her personality and mimicry skills, becomes Arlette, the lady from Paris. However, when she is caught by butler Mr Town creeping in late, she is dismissed without references. She goes to Edward for help but he has met the rich lady of his dreams and so Lucy is forced to find another way of surviving.

One thing all the leading ladies who have played Lucy agree is that it is a very demanding but rewarding role, most of them commenting that it is more challenging that Liza Dolittle in My Fair Lady.

For further information on the show – including the fact that both the lib and the piano score can be downloaded free of charge from the website – go to www.belowstairsshow.com. Auditions for Riverside’s June production will be held at 8pm on Thursday 3 April 2014 at the Memorial Hall, Old Windsor.

Please read on for a synopsis of the show (beware SPOILERS!), and a sample of the music can be heard on the Sample Music page for composer Alan Lewis on this site.

This is a story of life below stairs in a large London home in 1914 at the start of the First World War. It centres on lady’s maid Lucy Ambleside, an intelligent and ambitious woman with a gift for mimicry. Local PC Tom Snodgrasse would marry her tomorrow but she has ideas above her station and inveigles herself to a society ball as an American heiress where she meets the Hon Edward Waterflower, an apparent gentleman. But, like Lucy, he turns out to be seeking a good marriage to set him up in comfort.

Lucy lands an occasional spot with the local impresario on her day off and, thanks to her personality and mimicry skills, becomes Arlette, the lady from Paris. However, when she is caught by butler Mr Town creeping in late, she is dismissed without references. She goes to Edward for help but he has met the rich lady of his dreams, so Lucy is an embarrassment. With nowhere else to go, she returns to the theatre and becomes a full-time performer.

Tom, who still loves Lucy, tries to find her but fails and enlists in the army. On his last night, he recognises her as Arlette on stage. They spend his last night together before he goes off to war, where he is soon posted missing in action. Lucy finds she is pregnant and, now earning a good living, returns to the household and persuades under-kitchenmaid Emily to work for her looking after the baby when it is born. Emily agrees despite pressure from Mr Town.

The show ends in the theatre where Lucy tops the bill. Tom is there, home from France but wounded. When Lucy sees him, she calls him up on stage and it all ends happily.



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