Sailors and Sweethearts

Until 16th March, The Drum theatre in Plymouth is playing host to a very special play.  Sailors and Sweethearts is a celebration of the work of local artist Beryl Cook, one of Britain’s best know painters whose paintings concerned themselves with “ordinary people enjoying themselves”. Many of those ordinary folks were inhabitants of the city of Plymouth, a place that Beryl loved and moved to in the early 70s, spending much of her career observing its colourful characters.

Much of the action of the play is divided between the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery where three unlikely characters find themselves locked in prior to the opening of a retrospective of Beryl Cook’s work.  As they look at one of her paintings they each recognize characters from their past and realise that this painting has captured a pivotal moment in their lives.

Nick Stimson wrote and directed the piece using real stories that have been shared with him by the people of Plymouth. Some of these stories came from the Plymouth LGBT archive as Nick used several of these oral history interviews to develop one of the major story lines, one of which centered around a gay man leaving his wife and forming a partnership with another man. All three are inspired by Beryl Cook paintings and her view of the city she loved.

“The story lines are very focused around lives that I thought Beryl would have seen and painted in the 1980s,” Nick said, “The three stories begin play out in that time period, just after the Falklands War, and then we revisit in the Plymouth of today.”

When asked if he thought there had been a big shift in attitudes and ideas in the city between the two time frames, Nick’s answer was a combination of yes and no.  “Plymouth’s definitely different, it’s gone from a dockyard town to a university town and that’s brought more diversity and caused some attitudes to be rethought.  At the same time, the place has always had this fantastic energy that even those people who live tend to underestimate.  The three stories in the play show how people can tap into that energy and grow just as the city continues to grow”.

The play certainly challenges some conceptions regarding the city.  It acknowledges and embraces Plymouth’s history as a naval port and some of the negative attitudes that have and continue to exist but also sees the developments that have occurred and the potential for people to adapt and grow in different ways. The decline of Union Street as a drinking venue is mirrored by the rise of the Barbican as a social spot.  At the heart of the play, however, are the people. Colourful Plymouth characters, who Beryl Cook loved and celebrated in her work. Characters who come to view themselves (and the city around them) in new colours which arise out of their upbringing, economic status, sexuality and the love of a good pint of bass.

A must see for anyone who’s ever considered Plymouth their home, Sailors and Sweethearts runs from 6th to 16th March at Plymouth’s Drum Theatre.

Sailors and Sweethearts

Sailors and Sweethearts


  1. This was one of the best ‘local’ productions I have ever seen! I was so proud that a ‘snippet’ of gay history collected through this archive was included in this amazing community production. It is so Plymuff I doubt it could tour it really hit the spot for many Plymouth people. A massive WELL DONE to Nick and the company for delivering such an inspired production. I do hope the journey and performance has been captured on video for future generations to enjoy.

  2. I have been acting for almost 10 years, and in this production I play the part of Billy Nicholls, the guy who is initially in denial about his sexuality, but then subsequently leaves his pregnant wife to set up home with another man. I have to say that Nick has created a masterpiece with this production, and the show takes the audience (and cast) on a truly amazing rollercoaster ride of emotions, but leaves us all feeling proud of the city and its people, whatever background we come from.

    The show comes to a finale this Saturday, but I speak on behalf of the whole cast when I say that we will be very sad indeed to see the end of our fantastic journey. Thank you so much to Nick and all the people, research, backstage and front of house, who have made this show so enjoyable for us. It’s wonderful to be able to say I’ve been in a show which is so successful that the public have been queuing for returned tickets!

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