P E A C E C H I L D
Introduction | 1980
Peace Child has empowered young people to seek resolution to global challenges by the simple device of imagining a future in which the change has happened, then back-casting to the present to tell the story of how the youth of today deliver that change in their lifetimes. The story that embodies this device is called: Peace Child – a musical written by David Woollcombe with songs by David Gordon, based on The Peace Book by Bernard Benson.
Michael and Eirwen Harbottle, directors of the World Disarmament Campaign(WDC) brought Gordon and Benson together. Michael had met Benson in Sweden and been impressed by the vision of his Peace Book. Both Michael and Eirwen had been at the first performance of Alpha Omega in Coventry and been overwhelmed by the power of its majestic music and soaring vision. They wondered how that power could be harnessed to their work of raising awareness about the UN’s 2nd Special Session for Disarmament – the focus of the WDC’s work. David Gordon was introduced to them by Eirwen’s daughter, Rosey.
Bernard fell in love with David Gordon’s songs – particularly Child for a Day, sung by David’s brother, Cat Stevens – now Yusuf Islam, which means ‘Peace’ in Arabic. He arranged for David to have the exclusive rights to create a musical adaptation of the Peace Book and invited David Gordon, David Woollcombe, and their respective families to visit his home in Chaban and write the adaptation.
David Woollcombe is an author, playwright, film-maker and acknowledged expert on the field of youth participation in governance. He has written and directed numerous performances of Peace Child across Europe, North America, the former Soviet Union, and Central America. His academic publications include, “The Role of Children in Governance” and “Youth-led Development - Harnessing the energy of youth to make poverty history.” He has worked as a consultant for UNDP, UNICEF, and UNESCO.
Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, and formerly an actress, Rosey has produced the Peace Child musical in the UK and USA including the City At Peace show in Washington DC - a performance that brought together a total cross-section of youth from inner cities and the suburbs. She managed the publication of Our Island, Your Island - an environmental book for Cyprus produced by young Greek & Turkish Cypriots, She was also one of the producers for Gimme Six - an 8 part children’s TV adventure about children from the Turkish and Greek communities.
The Peace Book & Alpha Omega
Michael and Eirwen arranged a dinner party at their apartment, inviting Gordon, Benson, the Maschlers and Sir Peter Ustinov to discuss a collaboration between The Peace Book and Alpha Omega.
At an extraordinary evening, all were served with large helpings of Ustinov’s wit and wisdom but little concrete was decided about the ‘celebration of peace’ and the possible combination of Gordon’s music with Benson’s story. At the end of the evening, Gordon gave Benson a cassette of his oratorio. Benson listened to it in the car on the way home and was deeply moved. He contacted Gordon the next day writing him a note saying that he offered him exclusive rights to create a musical adaptation of his Peace Book.
Royal Albert Hall | 1981
It was David Gordon’s energetic insistence on following up the first, successful performance of Alpha Omega in Coventry Cathedral starring Edward Woodward, with a performance in London for peace and disarmament that led to first the Dominion Theatre and then the Royal Albert Hall being booked. He also involved agents Larry Westland and Mel Bush whose professionalism ensured the participation of stars like Susannah York and Peter Straker.
By a miracle, the Royal Albert Hall became free for the evening of 30th October 1981 - the last night of UN Disarmament Week. David Gordon booked it immediately and persuaded David Woollcombe (Eirwen’s son-in-law), to write an original script marrying the story of the Peace Book with the music of Alpha Omega, adding some new songs. Three thousand five hundred people attended the spectacular premiere of Peace Child produced by Gordon, Woollcombe and Rosey Simonds, with Susannah York as the Storyteller.
A scriptwriter and film-maker who had some experience of theatre from University days, David Woollcombe (Rosey's recent husband) wrote the words, “Peace Child” at the top of a piece of paper and started writing. 12-pages later, the first draft of the musical was complete splicing the essential elements of Benson’s story into the framework of the Alpha Omega musical.
By any measure, the performance was a success. The scale was astounding: a 200-voice choir, a 100-piece orchestra; a 5-piece rhythm section, Susannah York as the Story-teller; two star singers and upwards of 30 children + 20 dancers on a huge in-the-round stage in the centre of the Royal Albert Hall, lit by 5 follow-spots. 3,500 people came - not bad for the first night of a new musical. Noel Baker, Brockway and other dignitaries from the World Disarmament campaign who had thought the whole initiative by the Harbottles somewhat trivial and ridiculous were impressed.
“This must be seen in New York!” they agreed.
Kennedy Centre, Washington DC | 1982
On meeting John Marks, founder of Search for Common Ground – which at that time was called the Nuclear Network, David Woollcombe presented the footage of the first Peace Child show. They struck a $100,000 deal where he and Rosey would produce the show at the Kennedy Center; John and the Nuclear Network would fill the hall. John would raise the capital, while David and Rosey dealt with all of the creative elements.
For a prospective 5-month period, David and Rosey moved to the US with their 19-month old child,
ultimately staying there for 7 years.
Mike Malone was persuaded to choreograph the show, dance students from the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts were used, Tony Booker pulled in the DC Chorale, a band, and orchestrator (Chris Royal). David Gordon recruited Jessy Dixon and Rosey arranged auditions around the city to find children to perform the key roles.
Susannah York had enjoyed the Royal Albert Hall experience so much, she returned with her two children, Orlando and Sasha, to reprise the Story-teller role. Two fine actors from the Washington Arena Stage, Stanley Anderson and Alan North, took on the roles of the US and Soviet Presidents.
"The day of the show approached – and disaster: Susannah York got terrible tooth-ache and had to go to New York to visit her dentist. She missed the Dress Rehearsal – which was just as well, as it was the most disastrous cacophony of mis-haps and snafus it was possible to imagine. But the show itself went off almost without a hitch: Jessy Dixon’s microphone popped loudly on the first number, but after that – the show flowed like clock-work."
- David Woollcombe
Riverside Church, New York | 1982
Veteran peace activist, Cora Weiss had seen it in Washington DC and vowed to bring it to the Riverside Church in New York where she was sure she could persuade her friend, the Pastor there, William Sloan Coffin, to stage it. Oscar-winning actress, Jane Alexander was asked to be the Story-teller for this performance. She brought a grace and beauty to the show which inspired all who attended.
On returning to Washington DC after the New York show, David Woollcombe started work on what would become the Peace Child Study Guide for Schools. They sent out copies of this and flyers all around the country - hundreds, eventually thousands, of schools and communities took up the challenge to produce the musical.
Southwark Cathedral | 1983
Back in the UK, David Gordon, Bernard Benson and the Harbottles – the four other Peace Child founders, were not about to allow the USA to make all the running. So – they arranged for a Christmas performance of Peace Child in Southwark Cathedral which got some notice in the media.
USSR | 1984
David Woollcombe had been commuting back and forth to Moscow since 1983 – establishing connections with the authorities, artists and theatre people – massively helped by citizen diplomats like Cynthia Lazaroff, Anya Kucharev, Vladimir Posner, Misha Shevelov, Stas Namin and others. Together, they hatched a plot to bring US Peace Child over to do a show as part of the Moscow World Youth Festival.
They had no intention of parroting soviet politics – just making an appeal for Peace. The state even planned a tour for Peace Child to different stadia around Moscow, and to Artek in the Crimea.
They rehearsed the Americans at a Field Centre across the street from the US President’s retreat at Camp David, then in Moscow, incorporated the Russian children into the show – arranger Steve Riffkin and the Russian Band learned the songs – performing the show in front of legendary Russian poets, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Vosnesensky at the famous Natalia Sats Children’s Theatre. Natalia welcomed them personally and, when Gorbachev had his big Glasnost Assembly with Yoko Ono, Norman Mailer and the rest, she invited David Woollcombe to come as her guest as a pioneer of Children’s Theatre. This was an astonishing privilege from the lady to whom Prokoviev dedicated his masterpiece;
Royal Albert Hall (again) | 1985
Soviet-American Space Bridge | 1985
A deal had been brokered by David Speer, of Padilla & Speer – Minneapolis’s premier PR Agency. David shouldered the entire financial burden of producing the show and bringing to it the best PR and news coverage Peace Child had ever had. The Minneapolis Children’s Theatre hosted, linking to a studio in Moscow – and, under the skillful management of Kim Spencer and Evelyn Messenger, the link up was flawless – especially the moment when a Soviet and American child, linked on a blue-screen image, reached out, touched hands – and sang “Reach Out for a Star!”
Arriving on stage at the Children’s Theatre about 3-minutes before the link was due to go live, was John Denver, who presented the show and at the end, he sat amongst the American kids and chatted about his beliefs on camera.
On Christmas Day 1985, the Space Bridge was broadcast nationwide on the PBS network – garnering an audience of millions.
US-Soviet Tour | 1986
Raising $100,000 from Steve Wozniak – co-founder of Apple Computers, which helped enormously – the faith of the hundreds of American men and women who supported the tour was extraordinary. The experience of the tour was distilled in this 13-minute documentary which was shown, endlessly throughout the USA and Soviet Union to drum up support for the subsequent tours – about 100 of which were organised between 1987 and 1994.
It was the FIRST Soviet-American youth musical; it was the FIRST time a Soviet rock group had toured the USA. It was the FIRST US-Soviet reciprocal Youth Exchange
Below is a recording of the whole show from the Wilton Theatre, Los Angeles. It is introduced by US talk show host, Casey Kasem, Stas and David Woollcombe, and, though just a single camera shoot – provides a sense of the vibrancy of the music, and the passion of the young performers.
Central America | 1988
By a series of miracles, mostly coordinated by Rosey, the entire cast travelled to the USA and mounted a great show in Berkeley, and then in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto.
Toronto - Volgograd | 1989
The whole community in Toronto came together to make this one of the more wonderful, and unusual, tours and shows in Peace Child history: first, it was centred on two cities, Toronto and Volgograd; second it told an entirely new story – developed by the cast and production crew; and – 3) it was immensely popular in both cities.
As word spread about Peace Child, new shows kept happening in different parts of the world; Australia became a hive of Peace Child activity, there was German translation done in Basel, another in Mumbai set in Kashmir about the Indo-Pakistani conflict, Belgium, Argentina, New Zealand, and Japan.
Perhaps the most important international outreach was being done in Israel, where David Gordon had moved with his Israeli wife, Yael, and their daughter, Naomi. Peace Child Israel was the brainchild of a wonderful Israeli actress, Yael Drouyanoff, who saw in Peace Child an opportunity to bring together Israeli Arabs and Jews to workshop / improvise their fears about each other, and their different hopes for the future.
With her relentless energy, she built Peace Child Israel into a robust component of the Israeli peace movement, which – in the 1980s and 1990s – was showing signs of making an impact. She died, tragically young.
Taunton & London | 1989
Steve & Helen Elliott’s 1990 international Peace Child production at the Monkton Heathfield School in the Summer of 1990 was one of the most prestigious, best-documented productions ever done. Performed first in Taunton, near the school, it was then taken to London where it was performed at the Shaw Theatre in the presence of Prince Edward, Jonathon Porritt and other celebrities.
Perth / Jordan / Eastbourne | 1991
In 1991, the Rev. Michael Hare Duke decided to produce Peace Child with the Scottish Churches in his home town of Perth. The Duke of Argyll and Crown Prince of Jordan were there at the Scottish Premiere.
It led to a production in Amman, Jordan – produced by the Crown Princess. This was a spectacular affair – with massed bands of bagpipers, vast choruses, and Peace in the Heart with Arabic verses added. Young people from across the world flocked to the show.
In 1992, back in the UK, the plan was to find a safe place to bring together the young people from Jordan and Peace Child Israel. In Eastbourne, the tension between the Jordanians and the Israelis never entirely disappeared – but the show did move towards a resolution. And the vast cast and chorus made them feel very safe – and joyous as they looked towards a future at peace, with some elements of a 2-state solution – and the right of Jordanian Palestinians to return to their farms – which they could see, but never visit, across the Jordan River.
Irish Tour | 1992
Jennifer Reese, an American living in Cork, put together our first Ireland tour – which travelled an international cast from Cork through Dublin to Galway, Enniskillen and finally to Belfast.
The 1992 Irish Tour was followed up by another International Programme that Rosey put together in Derry / Londonderry – with a grant from the European Commission’s Kaleidoscope programme. Though no causal link could be proved, it was interesting that these productions came at a time when John Hume and David Trimble were, with John Major, putting together the first outlines of the plan which became the Good Friday agreement – just as this show had foretold.
There had been the experience by then of watching the US-Soviet Peace Child story come true with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. And no sooner had they done the Central American tour to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Escipoulas accords were signed by Oscar Arias and others bringing peace to that region. Steve Riffkin led a tour to South Africa just months before Nelson Mandela walked free and the scandal of apartheid was finally buried in that country.
Uniting Europe Peace Child Games | 1995
In 1995, for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, United Games decided to do simultaneous productions of the Peace Child musical in each of their six partner countries.
The Hague | 1999
They secured Peter Ustinov to play the part of the Story-teller – which was good. He could only do one of the performances, so for the second, the Dutch recruited a comedian who, in many ways, was a more sympathetic story-teller than Ustinov who never appeared happy performing with children.
Ely Cathedral | 2009
The Peace Child / Alpha Omega show described below is still available for performance by school orchestras, choirs and community groups. Unlike any other Peace Child show, this one deals with inter-religious mis-understanding – and, through a child’s eyes, sees ways to find a deeper harmony.
The UN Geneva | 2013
Mikhail Gorbachev endorsed a version at the UN in Geneva to tackle climate change.
Richard Sharpey. David Gordon’s long-time collaborator and arranger took on the role of MD – and a wonderful Devon-based choreographer, Claire Parker, created amazing dances and injected massive energy into the Show. Rosey was the story-teller – and David Woollcombe wrote and directed.
The show was something of a triumph with a spectacular cast of extremely talented young people from all over the world: USA, Ireland, UK, China, Indonesia, Ghana, Argentina – everywhere! And the greatest compliment: the audience – mainly staffers at the UN – standing in applause at the end, willing the young people to do what they had been unable to do: unite nations in pursuit of the common good.