DARLEY DALE: New musical Sparrows is a first-class production

Anyone visiting Peak Rail must have thought that the clock had been turned back nearly three-quarters of a century.

Children in flat caps and knitted hats with labels around their necks carrying suitcases and cardboard boxes containing gas masks stood on the platform at Rowsley South waiting for a steam train.

Sparrows, a play about wartime evacuees at Peak Rail's Rowsley Station, whole cast

Sparrows, a play about wartime evacuees at Peak Rail's Rowsley Station, whole cast

Ten minutes earlier they’d made a dramatic entrance, marching into a marquee by the railway to the soundtrack of an air raid siren and bomb explosions.

It was a truly poignant launch for Sparrows, a musical which took as its inspiration the story of 450 wartime evacuees who arrived at Bakewell and Rowsley to live with strangers.

The harsh process of selecting children who found it hard to settle into rural life was vividly portrayed as was the despair of a serving soldier missing his family.

The dark elements of wartime were counterbalanced by a sense of cameraderie, not least in the Dig for Victory campaign and children flying kites.

Amazingly, the whole production was put together in just five days during a summer school for 21 young people run by Sharon Holland Taylor, who scripted and directed the piece.

The ensemble singing was among the best I’ve heard from children and teenagers, reflecting the efforts of a team well-drilled by its musical director Jon Weller, who transcribed and arranged Sammy King’s original music.

One of the performers, Harry Diggle put his own lyrics to his solo, Dear Father, which was a soldier’s lament.

Another, Hannah Redfern, received rapturous applause at the premiere performance on Saturday, August 10, for her outstanding solo, entitled Little Soldiers.

Engaging charm was brought to the stage by younger performers such as Bethan Elliott and Tom Dawes, playing a brother and sister, singing Why Wasn’t We Born Beautiful? and Hannah West as the girl who didn’t like the smells of the countryside or or the fact that cattle didn’t have toilets.

I loved the promenade style feel to the piece in which the the audience were taken from the marquee to the station platform to wave the children off.

Who cared that we had to wait a few minutes for the train to arrive, or that a film show failed to materialise due to a technical hitch....this was a heart-warming production from start to finish, a true lump in the throat experience.

It was a crying shame that this depiction of emotionally-charged history ran for just two performances.