2007 – Shadowtracks – ABOUT


Commissioned by W11 Opera in 2007

Synopsis: Under the watchful eye of the station clock commuters rush to catch the last train home. But it is not only the present that leaves its footprint on the bustling concourse.

In the empty station, moonlight reveals shadowtracks gently vibrating with the arrival of the Necropolis train, bringing ghosts and memories back down the line. The ghosts must leave by daybreak, but when the train breaks down Victorian children, soldiers, evacuees and suffragettes all become stranded in the present. Will the Ascot party and the football fans see them and who is the strange lady standing patiently under the clock?

Composer Julian Grant
Librettist Christina Jones
Music Director Philip Colman
Soloists Sarah, Linda, Bessie Boots, Sophie, Tracy, Gerald, Nigel, Woman in Red Coat, Filch, Lightning, Station Guard, Tannoy, Station Master, Engine Driver, Guard, Porter, Flower Girl, Newsboy, Young Linda, Linda’s Granddaughter
Groups Spirits of the Clock, Clubbers, Ticket Sellers, Vendors, Ascot Goers, Bucket and Spade Family, Arsenal Fans, Urchins, Horrid Victorian Children, Suffragettes, Soldiers, Nurses, Evacuee Wardens, Evacuee Mums, Evacuees  
Orchestra Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Horn, Cello, Double Bass, Piano, Harp, Percussion  

Notes on Production: Multiple storylines offer a rich range of characterisation opportunities for a big mixed-age cast in this moving contemporary story. SHADOWTRACKS fits well into cross-curricular themes about World Wars I and II and is a wonderful tool for bringing history to life.

The musical style is vivid, memorable and full of witty musical references to sources from Handel oratorio to ‘40s swing. Most group parts are easily learned and there are some stunning harmony effects.

Only one set is required. Group doubling is not practical as the whole cast is often on stage simultaneously. Many costumes are contemporary and easily sourced but some (World War I soldiers, Suffragettes, Victorian children) are period specific.

Age range: Most principal roles can be handled by older teens. One short solo part for a little girl (Young Sarah) is crucial to the storyline. Evacuees and Victorian Children are most effectively cast with smaller 9-11 year olds to contrast with taller “adults”.

Running time 65 minutes.

Music and video

Visit the Audio pages for clips from this production.


SCENE 1. Late at night on a station concourse, TRAVELLERS and CLUBBERS who have been out on the town in London miss their last train home and disperse to find taxis. An eccentric old lady, SARAH, is gently ejected from the station by the GUARD. The SPIRITS OF THE STATION CLOCK comment on the events unfolding.

SCENE 2. When the station is empty, an eerie steam train arrives, bringing ghosts from the past. The VICTORIAN STATIONMASTER, GUARD, PORTER, and ENGINE DRIVER join URCHINS, PICKPOCKETS and HORRID CHILDREN alongside SUFFRAGETTES, FIRST WORLD WAR SOLDIERS and NURSES, EVACUEE MOTHERS, CHILDREN and WARDENS to reminisce about their ‘Old Haunt’. A WOMAN IN A RED COAT laments last seeing her child on the platform in the wartime evacuation from the city. Normally, before dawn breaks, the spectral Necropolis train pulls away with all on board; but tonight disaster strikes. The engine has broken down. The GHOSTS are stranded in the world of the present.

SCENE 3. The GHOSTS are still there early in the morning as VENDORS arrive to set up their kiosks. Old SARAH returns and her disjointed song mentions a lost little sister.

SCENE 4. Among the VENDORS at work today is a PROMOTIONS TEAM: TRACY, SOPHIE and their boss, BESSIE BOOTS, selling books and DVDs about the station’s history. A couple of TRAINSPOTTERS arrive: GERALD, who falls in love with SOPHIE at first sight and NIGEL who picks up one of the books and becomes immersed in the curious tale of the Necropolis Line, the old funeral railway.

SCENE 5. We enter the memories of old SARAH and slip back in time to 1940, to the cries of the NEWSBOY warning of the bomb threat to London. An evacuee girl, YOUNG LINDA, does not want to leave her mum – a WOMAN IN A RED COAT – and pleads to be allowed to stay in London with her sister, SARAH, who is too ill for the journey. LINDA gives her mother her teddy, Bertie, for her sick sister but the ghosts of the HORRID CHILDREN steal it. Back in the present, SARAH remembers being ill with pneumonia when LINDA was taken away to the station, and her mother telling her about the ghosts who stole the teddy.

SCENE 6. Now the stranded GHOSTS begin to cause trouble in the present. The HORRID CHILDREN, VICTORIAN PICKPOCKETS and SUFFRAGETTES set about present-day ASCOT GOERS, ARSENAL FANS, and a FAMILY queuing to buy tickets from the TICKET SELLERS. When the mother finds she can’t afford the fare for the seaside, the SUFFRAGETTES force the PICKPOCKETS to hand over their pickings to pay for the day out.

Worried by the chaos as past and present collide, the ghostly STATIONMASTER calls on the GUARD to blow his whistle, summoning World War I SOLDIERS and NURSES who lament their lost youth. The ENGINE DRIVER reports that the ghost engine is still not mended…how much longer can the ghost staff keep their passengers under control?

SCENE 7. BESSIE BOOTS is furious at the slow trade of her team and threatens to sack SOPHIE. Seeing her plight GERALD steps forward and buys fifteen books, but fails to declare his love to SOPHIE. Thanks to GERALD, the passengers begin buying books and DVDs. The STATIONMASTER calls on the pickpockets, LIGHTNING and FILCH, to smarten GERALD up to impress SOPHIE. The FLOWER GIRL hands him a bunch of roses. GERALD’s new look works instantly on SOPHIE.

SCENE 8. Old SARAH is still thinking about her lost little sister. Summoned by the STATIONMASTER, the GHOST OF SARAH’S MOTHER appears in her red coat. SARAH recognises her and the HORRID CHILDREN are persuaded to give back Bertie the teddy. At that moment LINDA, now an old woman, passes by with her GRANDDAUGHTER. The STATION CLOCK issues an announcement for LINDA, and finally the two sisters are reunited.

Mysteriously the ghost engine now submits to the ENGINE DRIVER’s repair efforts and is ready to depart, taking its cargo of ghosts away down the shadowtracks.


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