Local author Roger Burgess tells the story of the new musical that premieres at Tynemouth Priory Theatre, 12-19 April 2008
The bawdy doings of the Delaval family in Northumberland and in London provide the basis of this musical premiere which tells their true story for the first time in the medium they adored – the theatre!
The eccentric family who lived at Seaton Delaval Hall in the eighteenth century lit up high society with all the brilliance – and the brevity – of a firework display. While his younger brothers attempted to secure their huge estates in the north, Francis, the rightful heir, preferred a life of dissipation in London. There he married a rich widow, was taken to court for adultery and later for ‘a conspiracy to debauch’, joined the army, became an MP, befriended down-at-heel actors, and died young.
Visitors to Delaval Hall complained that, after a visit from Frank and his cronies, the rooms were “scarred to ruin by the riotous living of that scoundrel Francis and the lust-mongers he entertains!”
All the principal characters in this story really existed, and the events depicted are essentially true.
Sophie is fictional, though Sir Francis Delaval's will does refer to a natural child in Northumberland.
The character of The Judge and the conceit of Sir Francis's 'trial' are of course a dramatic device to tell Frank's story in musical form, though the two court cases he attended as defendant – that against his wife Isabella and that against Ann Catley - really happened along the lines depicted.
Much of the dialogue is built round contemporary anecdotes and memoirs, especially those of Sam Foote and his friends, and Tate Wilkinson the Yorkshire actor-manager who once employed Betty Roach.
Young FRANCIS DELAVAL (FRANK), fresh from Oxford, inherits the family estates in Northumberland but prefers a life of pleasure to the responsibilities involved. Housemaid SOPHIE is an early mistress.
Frank's older sister RHODA outlines her concerns that his profligate ways are a threat to the family wealth and estates.
Accompanied by his faithful manservant WILLIAM WEAR, Frank moves to London where he befriends two out-of-work theatricals, SAM FOOTE and HENRY MACKLIN, both anxious to help him spend his money.
They trick him into marrying a plain but rich widow, ISABELLA, whilst Frank plays cards with another actress, his mistress BETTY ROACH.
After hiring Drury Lane Theatre from David Garrick to stage a private production of OTHELLO,
Frank is taken to court for adultery by his neglected wife Isabella and fined £23,000.
To avoid his debts Frank joins the army and returns a hero after an assault on the French at St Malo and is knighted. To his delight, the DUKE OF YORK reveals that he too is infatuated with the theatre.
After the interval, we join Frank's corrupt election campaign to become MP for Andover.
Then we are introduced to the teenage cockney singer ANN CATLEY who captivates both Frank and the Duke of York. To Frank's embarrassment he is taken to court again, this time "for a conspiracy to debauch" Miss Catley. He is again fined.
We catch up with three old friends in Dublin. Macklin, Betty and Ann are now out of work there and reminiscing about happier times in London.
Meanwhile Frank is old before his time and is dying aged 44.
His detractors join forces to convince the court that "a life of pleasure is not one of happiness" but he bounces back by pointing out how many people admired his spectacular life and how his illegitimate son Francis, by Betty Roach, ends his days as Governor of Martinique.
A new musical
Book, lyrics and music by Roger Burgess
Musical Arrangements by Bob Jeffrey
Assistant Director David Moy
Musical Director Bob Jeffrey
Directed by Roger Burgess