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The Matchgirls


Book and Lyrics by Bill Owen : Music by Tony Russell
Produced at the Globe Theatre, London, Opened 1st March, 1965. Closed 11 June. 1965 (119 perfs)


Based on fact, the story tells of a strike by the girls in a match factory in 1888, when unions were still groping for recognition and mass withdrawal of labour was an almost unheard-of strategy in industrial relations. The match-cutters finally rebel against working conditions in which young girls had their jaws rotted away by phosphorus, and discipline was maintained by a system of crippling fines and sanctions. A grim episode, perhaps, but not many minutes of the play are allowed to pass before the natural ebullience of the traditional Cockney sparrow helps to create gay, sparkling entertainment which warms the heart, yet retains the essential drama of the central theme. The incongruously named "Hope Court" is the setting for much of the play, for it is there the workers live in shabby tenements. Desperation turns Kate, the tenement girl, into a reckless strike-leader, and complicates her courtship with Joe, a docker. Annie Besant, the liberal reformer, champions the strikers' cause and plays a vital part in bringing about their ultimate victory over what was then a callous management.

For the Chorus 

The show can be expanded to some extent, although in the original production every member of the company was an individual character, and named. Additional matchgirls can be added more or less at will, though there are fewer opportunities for male chorus. This, however, will recommend the play to Societies who find difficulties in male recruitment, or who have just presented one of the many musicals where the gentlemen of the chorus have all the best moments.


  • Kate.
  • Annie Besant.
  • Polly, a lively, cheeky matchgirl.
  • Joe
  • Mrs Purkis
  • Beattie
  • Nell
  • Maggie
  • Dot
  • Perce
  • Daniel
  • Mr Potter
  • Foreman Mynel
  • Herbert Burrows
  • Scots Girl
  • Old Min
  • Winnie
  • Jessie, a flirt and a bully.
  • Louise, little more than a child.

Musical Numbers:

  1. Phosphorus -Ensemble
  2. Look at That Hat - Ensemble
  3. Look Around - Kate
  4. Me
  5. Men - Kate/ Polly
  6. Something About You - Winnie/ Kate
  7. Mind You, Bert - Company
  8. My Dear Lady
  9. We're Gonna Show 'Eem - Ensemble
  10. Cockney Sparrers - Company / Polly
  11. Life of Mine - Kate
  12. Hopping Dance - Ensemble
  13. I Long to See the Day -
  14. Comes a Time - Kate
  15. Amendment to a Motion - Company
  16. Waiting - Company
  17. Life of mine

Scenes & Settings

Act I

The cutting-room at the match factory.
Hope Court.
Beside Gladstone's statue.
The Free Thought Bookshop.
On the way to the House of Commons.

Act II

Hope Court.
The Bookshop.
By the river.
Outside the Company's Head Office.
Charrington's Brewery.

Within a permanent basic full-stage set (Hope Court), the other scenes are formed either with simple insets, by traveller curtains or drop cloths, or by making minor alterations to the basic set


Piano Conductor, Double Bass, Alto Sax, Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Percussion