Henry's Girls

1st broadcast on Tuesday 15th May 2007 at 14:15-15:00 on BBC Radio 4


Dirk Maggs



Dirk Maggs



Written By

Alan Stafford



Production By

Above The Title Productions Ltd for BBC Radio 4





Alan Stafford's new play in which Henry Purcell receives a dream commission – his first full-length opera 'Dido and Aeneas'.

One snag – it's not for the professional theatre – it's for a girls' school in Chelsea...


In 1689 a girls’ boarding school in Chelsea put on a concert. The piece they performed was a brand new opera – “Dido and Aeneas”. Not particularly remarkable on the face of it. Except that this was the first English opera ever to have been written or staged.

Based on historical fact, this fast-moving Restoration romp takes an educated guess at why one of England’s best-loved composers chose to write his greatest masterpiece, not for the professional theatre, but for a gaggle of unruly schoolgirls. For one girl in particular, the arrival of the charismatic Mr Henry Purcell will change her life forever.

As the date of the open-air show draws near, it is clear that many of the girls’ parents are deeply unhappy with the idea of their daughters behaving like common actresses. Dancing and singing may be a useful social skill, but wouldn’t the girls be better employed learning the crafts of homemaking?




Robert Glenister
Naoko Mori
Josias Priest
Robert Duncan
Mrs Priest
Nichola McAuliffe
Frances Purcell
Chloe Annett
Saskia Butler
Catherine Shepherd
Charlotte's Father
Brian Bowles


Production Crew

Recording Engineer Gerry O'Riordan


Sound Manager Spot FX

Alison Mackenzie

Production Assistant

Rebecca Pinfield



Recorded at

Studio 3 The Soundhouse Ltd London England


Recorded on

26th & 27th March 2007


Music composed & Arranged

Henry Purcell's music from "Dido & Aeneas" - and some of his other instrumental pieces.

All vocal music was recorded especially for this production.

Singers: Naoko Mori, Catherine Shepherd, Saskia Butler, Robert Duncan

Chorus: Capella Nova conducted by Lindsay Blay

Keyboard: Alan Stafford

Cello: Katherine Joyce



Comment by Dirk Maggs

Nothing yet


Comment by Alan Stafford

This is my first venture into period comedy - so it was quite a surprise to see all the female actors tying long skirts around their jeans, so that the mike would pick up the swish of material as they moved.

In my previous play with Dirk (All Fingers and Thumbs) I sat in the control box, while Dirk was in the studio with the actors. This time round I was promoted to a seat in the studio, making it easier to add my own suggestions, which Dirk very generously allowed me to do.

It's a fabulous cast and I really admire how they threw themselves into the singing. Naoko has experience in musicals, and Robert Duncan had briefly sung as King Rat in panto. All the same, the music was far from straightforward, but they got it brilliantly - with the help of a strategically placed rear-view mirror, which allowed them to face the mike, while glancing at me on the keyboard for their cue.

Dirk was very quick at picking up anything that wasn't clear in the script, which we quickly amended with the minimum of rewriting. There are numerous shifts of location and snippets of music, which is a lot to pack into 45 minutes. Plus we brought in a 21 strong girls' choir.

Some male writers find it difficult to write for women. I enjoy it - and no-one so far has told me I'm awful at it. My previous play had more females than males - and this one, if you include all the musicians, has 28 women and 4 men.


Running Time

1 Episode of 45 Minutes



Cast Pictures

Catherine Shepherd
Naoko Mori
Robert Duncan
Nichola McAuliffe
Chloe Annett
Saskia Butler
Robert Glenister
Brian Bowles


What Other's have said

"A play full of music and delight ... some fine singing from a talented cast."

Susan Jeffreys, Daily Mail

"Director Dirk Maggs vividly evokes the splendours, spectacles and mishaps of the 17th-century theatre."

Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph

"Robert Glenister's dryly humorous Purcell provided a pleasing counterpoint to the 'covey of sweet schoolgirls' that were anything but."

Ciar Byrne, Independent

"a jolly romp ... providing an interesting insight into the social mores of the time."

Chris Campling, Times



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