Story of teenage performer who broke a war-time ban set for opening night in South Tyneside

The real-life story of a teenager who ran away from home to sing and dance for Britain’s wartime troops is the basis of a new musical debuting in South Tyneside tonight.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 12 June, 2019, 16:00
The cast of Wor War, Tony Chapman, Kathryn Atack, Lily Cooke, Caroline Corkin, Carole Cooke, Declan Marshall, Erin Atack and Sam J Scott.

Helen Hillcoat was just 16 when she defied an age ban to successfully audition for ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association, in 1939.

It led to parts on stage, film and television - and which is the central story of the two-hour long Wor War.

The production, by South Tyneside writer David Cooke, portrays Helen, who is now aged 94 and living in South Shields, as the fictional Dolly, 14, one of three children of Annie and Eddie Taylor.

Wor War depicts their life from the start of the Second World War to October 2, 1941, the day 63 people were killed and over a thousand injured in an air raid on South Shields.

Retired quality manager David, 68, who has written a series of other plays performed in South Tyneside, knew Helen from her performance work over the past 30 years.

David, from South Shields, whose wife Carol plays the leading matriarchal role of ‘Nana’, said: “Helen is an absolute delight.

“I realised I didn’t know an awful lot about the war. There had been tragedy in my family, and it was not talked about.

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“I wanted to represent the conflicts that many people felt, such as whether they could still laugh, or fall in love with people who were alien to Britain.

“The story is a culmination of how people succeeded and got on with things and kept calm and carried on but also how they wanted a change after the war, that they wanted something better.”

In real life, now-widowed Helen was born in London but met her future husband Colin, who was from South Shields, while performing with the ENSA-linked Victory 6 troupe.

The couple set up home in South Shields and had a daughter.

Wor War features music by Grahame Wright, including the original song ‘I Do The Dances, You Do The Songs’.

It begins a run of four straight nights at the Westovian Theatre, South Shields, on Wednesday, June 11, at 7.30pm, with tickets priced at £9. There is also a 2.30pm performance on Saturday, June 15.