Audition: City of Tomorrow

by Glyn Maxwell

Directed by Glyn Maxwell

Tuesday 10th December 2019 at 7.30pm in Room One

Playing dates: 24th April - 2nd May 2020


The play was originally written for six actors to play all 30 or so of the roles, but here we’re looking for an
acting company of 15. A lot of doubling. People will all be guests at a cocktail party. People will all be voices from the past. People will all be an angry mob. Everyone will have lots to do. It’s vital we have a strong ensemble spirit – like the Garden City pioneers themselves – so I’m especially looking for fine team players.

The role in BOLD CAPITALS is the main role in each ‘track’ and will form the basis of the casting. The age in square brackets is the desired age of the actor (not the character) but I could be flexible around that.

  • Track 1 EDWARD HANDSIDE: The founder of Garden City, based on Ebenezer Howard. A combination of Victorian manners and progressive ideas. Whimsical and idealistic, but sufficiently driven and detailed to make his dream a reality. Impractical in daily life, depends on his wife Julia. Doubling with Greg Phelan MP: The local MP in 2020. Sociable, shallow, glib. [over 50]
  • Track 2 JULIA HANDSIDE: A progressive Edwardian intellectual in the Bloomsbury tradition.
    Perceptive, witty and wry. A suffragette. Loves her husband, or at least tolerates his weaknesses. Sympathetic to the displaced farmer Laurence Johnson, and becomes a lifelong friend. Doubling with Celia Handside, her daughter, but many years later, so roughly the same age. [over 50]
  • Track 3 GEORGE GUESSENS: The architect, a conflation of various Garden City founders, not based on any in particular. Gifted, ambitious, romantic, arrogant. Starts to feel held back by Handside, quick to become resentful when his ideas aren’t followed to the letter. In the end he turns his back on the whole project and moves to London. [25-40]
  • Track 4 MOLLY BAILEY: a farmhand in 1918, bemused by the arrival in the countryside of Handside and his ‘pioneers’. Kindly but watchful, innocent but no-one’s fool. She falls briefly for George Guessens, but more deeply for the town he designed. Doubling with May Porter, her daughter, whom we meet as a friendly schoolgirl in the 1930s. [under 25 and can play a mid-teen]
  • Track 5 LAURENCE JOHNSON: a widowed farmer in whose house the Garden City pioneers shelter
    from a thunderstorm. He’s suspicious of their intentions and watches in bemused sorrow as the town rises up around him. Lives long enough to see the meadow he named for his beloved late wife become the Rosemeadow council estate. [over 50]
  • Track 6 LINNET CASPER: a teenage girl in 2020. Born in the Garden City, she now lives with her
    mum in poverty in Norfolk, hates school, dreams of a ‘City for Girls’, might just start a global movement. Spiky, radical, friendless, brave. [late teens/early 20s]
  • Track 7 ADAM PASSMORE: a Year 13 schoolboy poet from the middle-class ‘West Side’. Decent,
    sheltered, awkward, slightly up himself. Knows his history, wants you to know he does. Has an obvious crush on Gemma. [late teens/early 20s]
  • Track 8 GEMMA CLARK: a school-leaver from the East Side. Not sure what she wants to do, right
    now she’s working at McDonald’s and partying a lot. Bright, sarcastic, perceptive, strong. She amuses herself watching Adam being awkward. [late teens/early 20s]
  • Track 9 RHONA LOCKLEY: the town’s first official resident, cheerful, brave, ready-for-anything. An
    artist and photographer. Politically progressive, she helps to found the theatre group. The schoolboy poet Adam Passmore is her descendant. Doubling with Susan Beaumont, one of a couple petitioning for the ‘purity’ of the Garden City in 2005. [30-50]
  • Track 10 MR RUSSELL: a resident whom we glimpse in the early years of the town: gentle, goodhumoured, sociable, vaguely naughty. Doubling with Neil Beaumont, one of a couple petitioning for the ‘purity’ of the Garden City in 2005. [20-35]
  • Track 11 MIRIAM STOKES: another early resident. Friendly, bright, tolerant, thrilled by the
    possibilities of the new town. Joins everything. Doubling with Jolie Dyson, a young actress who plays someone from ‘a new town’ in a popular soap. A tabloid favourite with the public. Also doubling with Maisie, a carer for Laurence Johnson in his old age. [20-35]
  • Track 12 SYLVESTER BELL: a young actor, an early resident of the town. He studied at RADA before volunteering for World War One. He is suffering from PTSD. Doubling with redACT, a sinister young man who hacks computers and has an alt-right agenda. Secretive, misogynistic, malign. [20-35]
  • Track 13 BOB FENWICK: a solicitor who moves to the town in the early years, and joins the theatre club. Affable, annoying, mildly reactionary, kind of a buffoon. Doubling with Mr Griffith, the owner of the first bookshop. [40-60]
  • Track 14 LILIAN POOLE: Molly Bailey’s best friend in the early days of the town, Lilian works in the first bookshop. Likes a good time. Has a bit of a history with George Guessens. Doubling with Anna Goldman, a homesick schoolgirl, refugee from Nazi Germany, settled in Garden City in the 1930s, part of the rescue of children organised by the GC’s Quakers. [late teens/early 20s, convincing German voice]
  • Track 15 MRS MAY BUTLER: this is May Porter – whom we met as a schoolgirl in the 1930s – now in her eighties, in the 2000s. There’s nothing wrong with her long-term memory. Doubling with Jenny Plowman, a long-term resident, bookish, brave, stroppy, knows right from wrong. [over 60]
Background from Glyn Maxwell

Scripts are now available to read, from our Production Secretary Wendy Bage, but I thought I would introduce the play a little, for those who weren’t at the Directors Evening. Also because, to all intents and purposes, it’s a new play. I’m going to direct it, assisted by my old friends Danny Swanson and Jan Palmer Sayer.

City of Tomorrow is an impressionistic story of Welwyn Garden City. It’s my telling of a hundred years of England’s history refracted through the life of the town where I (like the Barn) was born and grew up. It’s impressionistic rather than documentary. I call the place ‘Garden City’, which is meant to honour its forerunner Letchworth as well as ancestors such as Hampstead Garden Suburb, Bournville and Port Sunlight. My pioneers are not meant to be close portraits of Howard, Osborn or De Soissons. They’re the Handsides, Edward and Julia, and the young designer George Guessens. A much shorter version of the play was broadcast by the BBC in 2014 for the Dylan Thomas centenary, alongside Under Milk Wood: poets of then and now writing dreams of their home towns. This is the spirit of City of Tomorrow.

The shape of the play is a series of connected vignettes. These are linked by the characters, or their descendants or ancestors moving across generations, or by certain themes, and the events are bridged by short verbatim accounts from the real early citizens of WGC. We see the Handsides and Guessens taking a walk in the fields on a summer’s day in 1918 – as indeed did Howard, Osborn and Purdom. In reality our founders stopped at The Bull in Stanborough (last seen as the recently demolished Chinese restaurant The East) and were offered beer, which they refused, being teetotallers. Much the same happens to my abstemious trio, but they mistake cider for apple juice, with far-reaching consequences. We see the first bookshop and the first ever meeting of the Garden City Players, a homage to those first hardy citizens putting plays on in old farm buildings – ring any bells?

However, the generous Horn family, whose farmstead the Barn was once a part of, weren’t the only important farmers in the town’s history. There was James Hunter (as in Hunter’s Bridge) who went on living in his house after his farm was sold, wanting nothing to do with the strange new town that grew up all around in the fields he’d once known. He’s in the play. So are the children rescued from Nazi Germany by our neighbours the Quakers. So are the couple who came to my parents’ house in Guessens Road in the 1980s, wielding a petition against the housing of immigrants. So is a girl who wants to change the world and a young man who wants to burn everything down. So are my versions of various heroes, villains, trolls and angels that pepper the history of anywhere at all.

City of Tomorrow is not written in verse, though some of my plays are. I’d call it naturalistic comedy in a dreamlike space. It’s not highbrow or difficult and it’s honestly got jokes. Any poetry is in the structure and the history itself.

If you want to hear something like it, I adapted Mr Pye (a weird and hilarious novel by Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame) for the radio, and it’s broadcast this Christmas, Sundays 22nd and 29th December.

I want the production of City of Tomorrow to be both hard work and enormous fun. I want a real team, an ensemble, a happy band like the folks who cobbled our town together out of nothing. I want a time of celebration and – a rare commodity these days – a spirit of optimism.

One last thing – I would very much like to have a film record of the process of this production, from first readthrough to last night. It wouldn’t require constant attendance, just occasional visits, marking significant moments. So if there’s anyone out there who might be interested, do get in touch.


Wendy Bage
Production Secretary
Telephone: 01707 331494
Send email: 

Audition dates

Auditions will be held on the following dates:

Tuesday 10th December at 7.30pm in Room One

Auditions for all productions

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