A CHESTER theatre company is reaching new heights with its latest musical.

The view from the pinnacle of Chester Cathedral's tower is the inspiration behind Theatre in the Quarter's latest, wide-ranging project.

During the autumn months, a diverse range of more than 100 people, of all ages and backgrounds, took the exciting trip to the top of Chester Cathedral’s mighty tower, and their stories, memories, dreams and histories have formed the basis for the new production, titled Top of the Tower.

The Afghan children look out from the top of Chester Cathedral tower to see if they can work out where home is.

The Afghan children look out from the top of Chester Cathedral tower to see if they can work out where 'home' is.

Thanks to the generosity of Chester Cathedral, over 100 people of all ages and backgrounds have climbed the ancient stairways, wandered through the enchanting passageways and listened to fascinating stories about the city and cathedral’s history by the inspirational tour guides.

Children from Blacon to Boughton, teenagers from across the borough, Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, adults with additional needs and people of all ages have formed part of the company.

The project was the idea of city composer Matt Baker, Cariad Morgan, Milly Stevenson, Joe Mann and Julie Elston from Theatre in the Quarter. Following the huge success of the 2023 production of the Chester Mystery Plays, as well as its most recent film and youth theatre projects, the team wanted to build on these huge levels of community engagement and the relationship with Chester Cathedral.

They have also called upon the writing talents of Richard Wiseman whose role has been to collate all the ideas, conversations and poetry and turn them into a brand new script.

Playwright Richard said: “It has been an incredible journey which began with so many of us taking the wonderful trip to this spectacular viewpoint in Chester. The stories and ideas that were sparked by the visit have been so varied!

"The teenagers have explored some of key moments in the city’s history, whilst the adults with additional needs wanted to talk about life in the city today.

Members of Live! Cheshires Patchwork Choir helped to write the lyrics of some of the songs from Top of the Tower.

Members of Live! Cheshire's Patchwork Choir helped to write the lyrics of some of the songs from Top of the Tower.

"The children from Blacon, so proud that they made it to the top of the tower, focus on their dreams for the future, whilst the Jigsaw group, which comprises children from across Chester, as well as Afghan and Ukrainian children, wanted to bring their actual journey to the top of the tower to life through drama and music.”

The play is being set to music by Matt Baker and Joe Mann, both of whom have been working with the groups. Top of The Tower will also feature a 40-strong choir, the members of whom have also contributed their ideas to the storyline.

Working alongside the team has been Ali Pitt and Pat Tripney from Art in the Place, who will be creating an exciting mural which visually brings to life all of the contributed stories and ideas.

Ali said: “We are so excited to involve this very large and diverse range of people in creating a huge piece of art which tells the many stories of Chester. The mural will serve as a backdrop to the final production in the spring.”

Artistic director of Theatre in the Quarter Matt Baker has drawn on several partnerships in order to give as many people the opportunity to be part of this new musical adventure.

He explained: “I find it truly exciting when people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can come together to make a new show; something that they have all help to make up, something that they all perform, and something that they, and their audiences will remember for a long time.”

Fatima and Firoza Tanha were inspired the gargoyles in Chester Cathedral.

Fatima and Firoza Tanha were inspired the gargoyles in Chester Cathedral.

Matt has been working with Live! Cheshire, whose choir of adults with a range of additional needs and talents will play a significant part.

He added: “The challenge of climbing 215 irregular stairs was too much for some members of Patchwork, and so some of us made a film of the trip to the top of the tower, including footage of the winding staircases, some of the amazing views of the interior and then lots of footage of the views from all four sides of the tower.

"It was an incredibly sunny day in September when we made the film, so in some ways, with all the added commentary, those who watched the film instead of climbing the tower, have had just as great an experience!”

Matt also built on his relationship with the Blacon Education Village by offering the opportunity for children from each of the five Blacon primary schools to be involved in the project.

Matt added: “We wanted to ensure that some of our most marginalised communities were represented in the story of Chester today, and so I wanted to offer some of the Afghan and Ukrainian children the chance to climb the tower and look out.”

The artistic director made several visits to Overleigh St Mary’s Primary School, where many of the Afghan children have been attending. They were excited to sing one of the songs already created for the show, and this led to a group of the children visiting the Cathedral Tower with Matt and their headteacher Emma Drew.

Matt said: “I have never seen children so excited as they listened to all the wonderful stories by Emma, the cathedral guide, and it was particularly moving when the children were all trying to work out where their home was, far away from Chester.”

Top of the Tower has been made possible by the generous support of a broad range of trusts and supporters; they are Cheshire West and Chester Building on Recovery Fund, Sanctuary Housing, The Earl of Chester Fund, Marjorie Boddy Trust, Sir Donald and Lady Edna Wilson Charitable Trust, Jeannie France-Hayhurst, The Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire and Sir Phil Redmond, as well as many Cheshire West and Chester Councillors who have supported through their members’ budgets.

The full company will begin to rehearse together after Christmas, and then the Top of the Tower public performances will take place at St Thomas of Canterbury Church on Parkgate Road on February 12-14, 2024, 7.30pm each night.

Tickets, priced at £12 for adults and £5 for children, are available via https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/theatre-in-the-quarter or by calling 07950 907501.