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Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre Launch Ground-Breaking New Production, 'The Land of Might-Have-Been'

A ground-breaking new musical produced by Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre has launched. ‘The Land of Might-Have-Been’ follows the early years of Vera Brittain and the entangled lives of those around her.

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Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre launch a ground-breaking new co-production for 2023, The Land of Might-Have-Been.  This bold new musical is built around the songs of Ivor Novello and tells the story of Buxton’s pioneering feminist and pacifist Vera Brittain and the intriguing lives, loves and motivations of those closest to her, all change-makers in war-torn 1900s Britain. 

The Land of Might-Have-Been, with book and lyrics by Michael Williams, follows on from the success of another Buxton-inspired triumph, Williams’ award-winning opera, Georgiana.  It will be directed by Kimberley Sykes, conducted by Iwan Davies, designed by Nicky Shaw with the music of Ivor Novello, including such lovely songs as My Dearest Dear, Waltz of My Heart, My Life Belongs To you and Why Is There Ever Goodbye, arranged with additional composition by Iain Farrington.    

The story follows Vera and her soon-to-be fiancé Roland, and Vera’s brother Edward and their close friend Bobbie over a long hot summer in Buxton in 1914. They all have their own ideas about their glittering futures but are faced with the prejudice and conventions of their time. Vera is determined not to become a traditional young married woman but wants to attend Oxford University and live an independent life. Her brother, Edward, dreams of becoming a musician and composer but must hide his secret love for Bobbie from his family and society. Roland wants to attend Oxford University and be an acclaimed poet, and Bobbie, forced to follow in his father’s footsteps, would rather search for a new way of life that would include Edward. The war in Europe shatters all their hopes and dreams when Vera’s friends are killed in the battlefields, and she embarks on a life-long campaign for peace and equality.  The musical’s epilogue sees Vera’s daughter, Dame Shirley Williams, reflecting on her mother’s influential life. 

Commenting, Michael Williams said: “This is such an extraordinary story of love, hope, resilience and the rebellious spirit of young people.  It throws new light on stories we thought we knew and also brings together the parallel but separate lives of Ivor Novello, the most successful British musical theatre composer of the early 20th century and Vera Brittain, the author of the most powerful memoir of that time, Testament of Youth. Both young people were caught up in the tangles of forbidden love, war and terrible loss. It’s fitting and very poignant to be telling Vera’s story through Ivor’s beautiful songs.” 

Chief Executive and Creative Director of Norwich Theatre, Stephen Crocker said: “This is a story of resilience, hope and the promise of youth, themes which are still hugely relevant today. In a fairer world, what might have been for these inspirational characters? We are delighted to be working with Buxton International Festival to bring this beautiful story to the stage.”  

The Land of Might-Have-Been is a fictional dramatization loosely based on incidents in the life of Vera and Edward Brittain in the period just before and during the First World War and is drawn from a variety of sources. The narrative of the circumstances surrounding Edward Brittain’s death is loosely based on Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge, Vera Brittain: A Life (1995) and Mark Bostridge, Vera Brittain and the First World War. The Story of Testament of Youth (2014). 

The Land of Might-Have-Been premieres at Buxton International Festival on Friday, 7 July with follow-up performances until 21 July and then onto Norwich Theatre between 25 and 30 July. Priority booking for this important new musical opens to BIF Friends and Norwich Theatre’s top tier supporters from 21 November 2022. 

On sale from:

  • Gold Friends and Corporate Members – 21 Nov at 10am
  • Friends and Best Friends – 24 Nov at 10am
  • General Public – 28 Nov at 10am