From lidos to Eurovision: Ripon teacher’s quirky musicals
Last updated Apr 19, 2024
Emily Roberts, whose new musical reflects her love of lidos

It was during an open day at a lido in Cumbria that composer and playwright Emily Roberts found the inspiration for her latest musical. 

The premise of All Those On Board suddenly popped into her head while she was chatting to campaigners of a multi-million pound project to bring the lido at Grange-over-Sands, which closed in 1993, back into use. 

The musical, which will run on selected dates in May and June, tells the story of a group of people trying to save and re-open a derelict lido. Emily, a fan of open water swimming, said: 

“I do love lidos. I went to Ilkley Lido a lot as a child and it gets a mention in my script, based on my memories of Wagon Wheels, crisps and queuing up on the tarmac.

“My musicals usually have a love story at heart, but this is different, it’s more of an ensemble piece. Although I suppose it is a kind of love story – it’s about the love of a lido and doing something for the love of community.” 


A classically trained pianist who teaches music at schools in Harrogate and Boroughbridge, Emily writes musicals in her spare time and always has a few ideas and titles floating around her mind, waiting to be developed. 

Currently, there’s one called When The Bell Goes based on her years of classroom teaching. There’s Just Twelve Days about a group of people trying to get Christmas back to being a 12-day festival rather than starting in September (Emily puts her tree up on Christmas Eve). Then there’s a vague notion about a ‘bad taste bookies’ which doesn’t yet have a title. 

At some point, Emily will get a flash of inspiration that gives her the hook she needs to develop one of them. She’ll then start with a rough storyline, followed by the opening number, something slower in the middle and then the finale. Once she gets going, it usually takes her two or three months to write. She said:

I start by thinking of the style of the songs. I like writing songs that are part of the story – it’s much more fun. But I also want them to be able to stand alone, to be accessible and catchy. I like a good song that you can sing afterwards, like in The Sound of Music, Calamity Jane and Grease. But my initial plan can change quite dramatically. Anything can happen.”

Writing as ECR Roberts, Emily describes her musicals as upbeat with a couple of more poignant moments. She presented her first one, a romantic comedy of errors called Christoper Lonesome, 22 years ago. It was performed by students at Leeds Grammar School, where Emily was a teacher at the time, because she couldn’t find a venue willing to put on a show by an unknown writer. It was a sell-out, but it was a decade before Emily found the time in her busy life to write another one.

Going Grey was staged in the summer of 2013. It told the story of a recently-widowed woman who had met someone new and was performed to such great success in York that the following year it ran for 15 nights in venues across London and North Yorkshire.

Personal experience

Emily’s shows are often based on personal experience. Her third musical, The Pecking Order, was produced in 2018. It came about after Emily moved from York to Kirkby Malzeard near Ripon, giving her the experience of living in a rural community to flesh out her idea for a ‘farming boy meets city girl’ storyline. 

Her fourth musical, Let Me Be The One, was inspired by the UK’s worst ever decade in the Eurovision Song Contest, when it failed to reach the top ten at any point from 2010. Watching on TV as Michael Rice came last in 2019, Emily, a long-time fan of Eurovision who had always wanted to write a musical about it, had her lightbulb moment. She said: 

“It really struck me that it was the end of such a bad decade for the UK. I had the idea to set the story at that moment in time and focus on two fans and their efforts to help the UK get back in the top ten of Eurovision. The story ends on the finals night of 2020.” 

She wrote the show in anticipation of presenting it before the real contest in 2020, and even received sponsorship to take the show to Rotterdam, that year’s host. But when the pandemic put paid to those plans, she made it into a film instead and later took it to London and Knaresborough. 

Emily on guitar as part of a group of Eurovision fans outside the Conference Centre on the 40th anniversary of Harrogate hosting the competition.

With each musical, Emily learns something new. After lugging around three big bales of straw for The Pecking Order, she’s since stuck to more manageable props: All Those On Board features just eight deckchairs and some beach balls. Little things have made a big difference, such as placing songs to bring a scene to an end rather than them being an interruption in the middle of it. Instead of using a small band to accompany the shows, musical instruments are now incorporated into props or furniture and played by the cast for a more seamless production.   

All the shows are presented by Drip Drop Theatre Company, which Emily set up for her second musical and  named after a phrase from Azerbaijan’s 2010 Eurovision entry. The company’s cast members join mainly through word of mouth, with most coming from Kirkby Malzeard, Burton Leonard, Ripon and Ilkley. As well as writing the song music and lyrics, Emily also writes the script and the choreography, directs each show, occasionally performs, and does all the publicity and admin. She said:

“The whole joy for me is creating the music and the lyrics together. I particularly love trying to find quirky little rhymes and making the emphasis of the words fit the emphasis of the music. Cole Porter is my favourite of all musical writers. His music and lyrics are so beautifully written. He had such a way with marrying the lyrics with the musicality of the score.

And I really enjoy the choreography. When I write the shows now, I’m already thinking about the choreography.

All Those On Board runs at seven venues including Ripley, Ripon and Kirkby Malzeard from May 30 to June 8. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £8 for under 21s (booking fee applies) and can be booked here.

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