The Dickens Girls

Book and lyrics by Rachel Bellman
Music by Elizabeth Sybil Charlesworth
Direction & Dramaturgy by Charlotte Westenra

Julia Mosley has nothing. No home, no family, no future. She is a prisoner in Victorian London. A ‘fallen woman’. But when Charles Dickens and Angela Burdett-Coutts set up a house for fallen women in Shepherd’s Bush, Julia and a select group of girls have the chance to turn their lives around.
These girls have a year to transform themselves into respectable, skilled women before being shipped abroad as domestic servants and prospective wives. Which girls will succeed, and which will be thrown back to the streets?
The Dickens Girls questions the expectations placed on young women then and now. P.S This is a true story.

Elizabeth and I began writing The Dickens Girls in January 2019, inspired by the true story of the house for “fallen women” set up by Charles Dickens and Angela Burdett-Coutts in 1847. We wanted to explore the real lives of these young women, most of them ex prisoners and prostitutes, who took a leap of faith at a time when society had labelled them irredeemable. We also wanted to question the problematic ideas behind the project (including the idea of a ‘fallen woman’) when viewed through contemporary eyes. The first decision we made was that we would never see Charles Dickens onstage. 

After pitching a 25 minute extract from the musical, the show won the inaugural BYMT New Music Theatre Award. The full-length, two act piece was subsequently commissioned for British Youth Music Theatre’s 2019 summer season, and produced at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, directed by Charlotte Westenra.

We’re currently developing the musical into a version that can be performed by a smaller cast (the BYMT version was written for a cast of 35). The piece was a finalist for the 2020 Rhinebeck Writers’ Retreat and the song ‘Two Ways to Australia’ was a finalist in the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize 2020.

Songs from the New Music Theatre Award and BYMT production

‘Everything You Lost’ and ‘Try to Be Good’ performed by Emily Collins, Bethan Downing, Lizzie Wofford and Stephen Redwood. Includes narration of some stage directions for the showcase version.

‘Fortune’, ‘Think of England’ and ‘Two Ways to Australia’ performed by the 2019 British Youth Music Theatre cast.

Trailer for the 2019 production of The Dickens Girls, produced by British Youth Music Theatre at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

BYMT Creative Team:

Director: Charlotte Westenra
Musical Director: Oli Jackson
Choreographer: Steven Harris
Designer: Stewart J Charlesworth
Lighting Designer & Production Manager: David Phillips
Sound Designer: James Cook

‘Two Ways to Australia’ performed by Rebecca Trehearn

Performed in July 2020 as one of the finalists for the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Prize.