This week, the first three of five winning plays of a one act playwriting competition are to be performed by Newport Playgoers Society at the Dolman Theatre.
The plays are the winners of a one act playwriting competition held by the society in 2020 when the theatre was closed during lockdown. The prize for the five winners was the production of their scripts now that the theatre is open to the public again.
One of the featured plays to be performed by the Society on the opening week of the festival is Adele Cordner’s The Balloon Girls based around a real-life event that took place in Newport, South Wales during World War II.
Adele has worked on several productions with Newport Playgoers Society over the years and most recently directed The Secret Diary of Anne Frank in 2020. Her poetry collection, The Kitchen Sink Chronicles about family life during the first 6 months of the pandemic was published in 2021.
Here, Adele discusses The Balloon Girls with Thomas Howells.
What was your inspiration for the one-act play, The Balloon Girls?
I was researching the role of women during World War II and was particularly interested in the role that they played in operating barrage balloons.
During my research, I discovered an event, a true story that happened in Newport in September 1940 when two barrage balloons over Tredegar Park and Belle Vue Park captured a German fighter plane as it was returning from bombing in Ellesmere Port.
The plane got caught up in the cables of the balloons, firstly over the one in Tredegar Park and then secondly the one over Belle Vue Park. The Balloon squadron were very excited thinking that they had captured prisoners of war. They were following the plane across the park thinking it would land, but tragically it carried on and crashed into a house in Stow Park Avenue, a tragic event, because it resulted in the loss of two teenage children, Malcolm and Myrtle Phillips and also those of the three German airmen.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the characters featured in The Balloon Girls?
Malcolm and Myrtle Phillips were the teenage children who tragically died that night. I wanted to include them in the play and bring him back to life because I want them to be remembered as they were, two teenagers living in Newport. I read they were well-known in the community as their father ran a tobacconist shop in the town and Malcolm used to ride around on his bike with his dog in the front. I wanted to re-imagine them as lively teenagers. From the photos I’ve seen, Myrtle is smiling and looks like a lovely, happy girl. So, I wanted us to remember them that way.
I also have a character called Harry Wappler who was one of the German airmen who escaped from the plane, he was the pilot and was thrown out. I was fascinated by him when I was doing the research. He survived with broken bones and was taken to St Woolos hospital. Incredibly the parents of the children who were killed, Mr and Mrs Phillips visited him the very next day and forgave him for the loss of their children, which was just the most incredible part of the story. I was really touched by that, it’s just an incredible thing that they did.
Did you do a lot of research for The Balloon Girls?
I really enjoyed doing all the research. I was very fortunate that I managed to get in touch with the Barrage Balloon Association and they were able to give me some help and advice which was fantastic. it helped my research and to keep the story as true to life as I possibly could.
How does it feel to have something you have created performed on stage?
It’s exciting! I can’t wait to see it!
I’ve been to one or two rehearsals and have been watching the amazing actors rehearsing and bringing the characters to life. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have your words spoken by an actor. It’s great and they bring to it more comedy than I might have imagined. So, lines which I didn’t think were funny, are. I’m delighted about that.
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing The Balloon Girls?
I hope that they will understand the story and think deeply about what it was like to live in Newport during wartime in the 1940s. it was so hard, I don’t think I appreciated what local people had gone through. There were so many bombings in Newport of which I knew nothing about. I didn’t realise it was so strategically important, what with the railway and the steelworks and with the port of course. It is hard to imagine the hardships that people lived under.
I would also like people to commemorate the lives of Malcolm and Myrtle Phillips and the German airmen. I think it’s important that we remember people from both sides.
- The five winning plays will be performed at Newport’s Dolman Theatre over two weeks in groups of three and two plays.
- The Balloon Girls by Adele Cordner, Thanks for Listening Grandad by Niamh Jones and Plagued By Doubt by Julia Lewis will run from Tuesday 23rd until Friday 25th March 2022 at 7:15pm, with a matinee on Saturday 26th March at 2pm.
- Windows by Alice Lynch and Drawing The Line by Ross Salvage will open on Wednesday 6th April and run until Friday 8th April at 7:15pm with a matinee on Saturday 9th April at 2pm.
- To book tickets visit http://www.dolmantheatre.co.uk or call 01633 263670.
- Read more about the Newport Playgoers One-Act Play Festival here.