the Wesley musical
BOOK AND LYRICS by Alan Thornhill MUSIC by Penelope Thwaites
About the Show
Using the dramatic true story of Martha Thompson’s incarceration in Bedlam, following her conversion at a Wesley meeting, Ride! Ride! brings to the stage one of England’s greatest religious and social reformers. John Wesley’s impact on a highly colourful and also corrupt society challenged the established church - which at the time was largely out of touch with the ordinary person. To those at the bottom of society Wesley gave hope, inspiring thousands to a better life. Some historians believe that Wesley’s revolution helped to avert another more blood-stained one, such as happened in contemporary France. His ceaseless travelling and preaching throughout a long life (1703 - 1791) took him, they say, 250,000 miles on horseback - hence Alan Thornhill’s title.
The show has a similar feel to Les Miserables, in the sense that it takes a historical situation, and explores spiritual themes within the context of a gritty social climate, and the harsh realities of city life.
Written by Alan Thornhill, and composed by Penelope Thwaites, Ride! Ride! was first produced in 1973 at the Methodist Theatre Church in Bolton, Lancashire by Leslie Marsh and Nancy Ruthven with musical direction by Penelope Thwaites. It’s professional production, directed by Peter Coe, opened at the Westminster Theatre, London, in May 1976, following a national tour. Following the London run, author and composer made important revisions to both script and score. (Recordings and publications connected with the 1976 London production are no longer sanctioned for use and are therefore in breach of current copyright.) The authors’ revised version was subsequently produced widely in the USA, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. In 1996 Penelope Thwaites made a new concert version, incorporating several numbers from the original Bolton production and with the agreement of Hugh Williams, Alan Thornhill’s literary executor, shortened the script. This version has been performed both in concert (including April 1999 at Lambeth Palace, London) and fully staged (August 2001 at the Newtown Theatre, Sydney, Australia). To celebrate the Wesley Tercentenary year, it has been published by Bardic Edition (6 Fairfax Crescent, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP20 2ES - Tel.: 01296 428609/Fax: 01296 581185) in the form of a new piano/vocal score, choral score, full score, libretto and instrumental parts (available on hire/rental). A commercial CD recording of Ride! Ride! starring Keith Michell as John Wesley, is available from SOMM recordings (Tel.: 020 8398 1586/Fax: 020 8339 0981) and all good record shops.
Gramophone magazine (November 2000) commenting on the “wonderful catchy tunes” remarked that the music still packs as much of a punch today as it did in the original production - “the strength of Alan Thornhill’s libretto and the sheer variety of Thwaites’ music combine to create a compelling aural drama”.
The late Reverend Alan Thornhill was educated at Oxford, where he returned later as a Fellow and Chaplain of Hertford College. He discovered his talent as a playwright in his 30s. His first play The Forgotten Factor, about an industrial relations dispute during the war years, premiered in Washington DC in 1940, and has since been translated into 16 languages, as well as being performed in London’s West End in 1946.
In 1957, Thornhill took the subject of Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the first African American college, for his first musical The Crowning Experience. It opened in Atlanta, Georgia, a controversial beginning for the show, with a multi-racial cast at a time when racial integration was yet to be achieved in the South, preceding the civil rights marches of the 1960s.
Several of Thornhill’s plays were produced throughout the 60s and 70s at the Westminster Theatre in London. In his last play, Sentenced To Life, Thornhill continued to be one step ahead of current debates with this challenging treatise on euthanasia, which ran for 9 months in London in 1978. He continued to write until his death in 1988.
Australian pianist and composer Penelope Thwaites lives in London.
She has composed 4 full length musicals, over 150 songs and instrumental works
and has contributed to 5 musical reviews. As a classical pianist she has
given concerts in over 20 countries, often including Australian repertoire in
her programmes, and her many recordings of Percy Grainger’s music have
established her as an international specialist in this field.
Penelope received an AM in 2002 for her services to Australian music.
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