Bendigo Boswell
A haunting tale highlighting the dramatic consequences of harboring prejudice.
Show Essentials
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Full Synopsis

Act One

The Ballad Singer begins by singing a short ballad about Bendigo Boswell, saying that his honor is what brought him down. Two cousins, Anna and Polly, are at a fair. Anna sees the tent of a Gypsy Fortune Teller. She leaves Polly outside, waiting. Inside, the gypsy woman says that she has no ordinary palm. She sees a journey in her future and she also sees fine silver, a dress as red as blood and a fine young man. Anna gets nervous and goes back out to Polly. She tells her that the Gypsy said she would be married next week in Kent. The girls laugh it off and go home.

The Ballad Singer appears again and introduces the fields of Kent, which is a summer getaway for all types. The place begins to bustle with Gypsies and Londoners and families, old and young. Most notably, there are the Boswell family and the Harris family. Everyone goes off on their own except for Bendigo, who is carving a headboard. Black Amos appears and plays the fiddle for the Ballad Singer, who speaks more of Bendigo; he is a Gypsy, born to a Romany family. His mother is now dead, but the Singer says that her spirit is still alive and would bring him down. The Boswell children all come in, playing and roughhousing. They begin to bully Bendigo. Something is wrong with him. As their father comes in, he calls them off. It has only been a week since their mother died, and that is surely what is bothering Bendigo. He insists that her spirit is restless, and he hears her crying. He claims that they didn't take proper care of her when she died, then rushed off to Kent for work. George Fowler, who is overseeing things at the campsite, and the Reverend come around to check on things. They are blessing everything so as not to take any chances. Nelson, Bendigo's father, asks them not to bless his caravan. He pulls Fowler aside to explain.

Meanwhile, the local children are taunting the Boswell children, and a big fight erupts. The farmer sets out a warning that there will be no fighting and no stealing; there apparently was a lot of both last year. Just then, the Harris family comes through with a wagon full of luggage. They get their housing assignment and head off looking for Anna, who has been trailing behind. Soon after they leave, Anna comes in, looking for them. She begins to inspect the Boswell's trailer and sees Bendigo there. She asks if he has seen her family, and, at first, he is silent. He just stares at her before saying that he has not seen anyone. There is an awkward exchange between them, and Anna, feeling nervous, begins to leave. Bendigo calls out her name. She is frightened and cannot figure out how he knew her name. He says that he knows everything, and she responds by asking him to read her palm. He begins and simply says that her hair is jet black like his mother who just passed away a week ago. Anna panics and runs off. Bendigo just stands there and wonders to himself. Everything about this girl was exactly like his mother. He is about to go in when Amos calls him. Amos has heard the entire conversation and asks Ben about his mother. Meanwhile, the girls are inside, calling for him. Just as Ben goes in, Amos says that maybe he will marry that girl. It is exactly what Ben had been thinking.

The Ballad Singer sings another verse about Bendigo and how his fortune was told that summer night. Late that night, the local children are gathered in the chicken run. They do not like the Gypsies and want to see them gone, so they will steal some chickens, hoping that it will be blamed on the Gypsies. They go ahead with their plan, but some of the girls freak out as they try to hold the chickens. The entire place bursts out in noise and chaos, and the children run off.

The Harrises are out in the Hops field, working. Anna seems down, and one of the boys is wandering around with a local girl. They are talking about the chickens that the Gypsies stole and how mad Fowler is. The Boswells come through on their way to work just as a Sally, one of the Harris girls, sees a wasp. There is panic, and the Harrises don't know what to do. One of the Boswell boys catches the wasp out of the air and kills it. The Harrises are very grateful, as Sally is allergic to wasps. Anna asks where Ben is, and they reply that he is back at the wagon, so she heads off in that direction to find him. The candy man, Jellicoe, comes around and sees Lizzie, the local girl, with Reg, the Harris boy. He says that he thinks it will be the first hopper wedding of the year. Mrs. Harris worries that she is not ready to have her son get married, but Jellicoe explains that it is an old hopper tradition that, on Friday nights, they have joke weddings.

Black Amos is playing his fiddle and trying to get food out of Ben, who is ignoring him. Finally, Ben lashes out and tells Amos to leave. As he does, Anna shows up and sits beside Ben. He tells her how much she reminds him of his mother. They sit and giggle about how they should both be out picking, and then Anna gets ready to go. He asks her to stay and tells her about the red dress, scarf and earrings that his mother wore when she died. He pulls out the scarf and puts it on Anna. She realizes that it is sacred and tries to give it back, but Ben insists that she keep it. The local kids come in, mocking Lizzie about her new boyfriend. Anna lies about why she was there and rushes off. The kids begin to mock Ben and call him a chicken stealer. He threatens them, and they all leave.

Anna is back at her hut, trying on the gifts from Ben. She is dancing and singing as Polly walks in. Anna tells Polly about Ben and the gifts and that she thinks that she likes him. Meanwhile, all of the workers sit around the campfire together. The Harrises and Boswells are all there. Nelson comes in and sends one of his boys out to investigate. He thinks that he saw Black Amos lurking around and does not trust him. Everyone seems to be getting on well when Mr. and Mrs. Harris burst in, yelling. Mrs. Harris has found the gifts that Anna got, and Mr. Harris is furious that a gypsy is trying to seduce his daughter. The gathering breaks up, and his family gives Ben a hard time for giving away his mother's things. He says that he read in Anna's palm that his mother wanted him to give her the gifts. The boy runs in then and tells his father that he did find Black Amos. Ben then prays at a small altar, asking for his mother to be brought back. As he does, Anna comes in behind him. She says that she heard him calling her name, so she came to find him. He tells her that he was praying for his mother, and that she is back... in Anna. He asks her never to go away, and she agrees. He cuts both of their hands and they mix their blood as a promise to one another.

Act Two

It is Friday afternoon, and Lizzie and Reg are getting ready for their wedding. Everyone gathers, and the ceremony takes place. Fowler and the Reverend come in and pull Rupert, Fowler's son, aside. They tell them that the collections box has been stolen from the church. They don't know for sure that it was the Boswells, but they suspect that it was and they want Rupert to find out. As soon as they leave, Rupert's friend comes out with the collection box in his hands. They had stolen it and will blame it on the Boswells.

The scene switches to Saturday, and the Harrises are preparing for their Concert party. Bendigo rushes in to find Anna and tells her that they must meet that night at 8:00. It is very important that they meet before everything happens. Anna asks what is happening, but Ben says he will explain later. Just then, a boy rushes in and tells everyone that it is going down at the Gypsy camp. The collection box was found under their trailer. Anna has her father's concert that night but she still promises to meet Ben. The Ballad Singer sings another verse about how a Romany boy is a man of his word but his heart can be moved by things.

Fowler is at the Gypsy camp, kicking the gypsies out. They plead and argue that they were not responsible for the theft. He does not believe them and can't imagine who else would be responsible for it. Sally screams; an Adder has bitten her. The poison will kill her if they don't do something quick. One of the Boswell boys can help her and they bargain that, if these accusations be left alone, he will do just that. Fowler agrees and he saves Sally by treating the bite. Fowler agreed that they could stay and now believes that perhaps they are not responsible for the theft. He wonders who it could be. One of the boys tells him about Black Amos. He used to be a Gypsy but was kicked out of the tribe for killing their mother. Last week, he took her for a ride at the fair in a fancy wagon and went too fast. She fell out and her dress got caught under the wheel. They know that he has returned and would have the low moral character to plant the box underneath their trailer. Ben speaks up then and points the finger at Rupert and his friend: He saw them plant the box. Rupert is backed into a corner and confesses. The Ballad Singer sings of honor again and how Ben spoke honorably and courageously... but honor will bring him down.

The concert is in full swing, and everyone is drinking and celebrating after a difficult day. Anna sneaks out to go meet Ben. Ben is running Amos out of the camp. Amos keeps on saying how things have come full circle, but Ben will not listen. Amos leaves as Anna enters. Ben pulls out a red dress and hands it to her. It is his mother's wedding dress, and today is the anniversary of his parents' wedding. He tells Anna to put it on, but she is frightened. Their lives are too different and she is not as serious about their vows as he is.

The concert party continues as someone rushes in and whispers to Fowler that all of the silver from the church has been stolen. Anna is in the red dress, and Ben leads her to the altar. His brothers perform a Gypsy wedding ceremony as Anna and Ben light candles. The party is still carrying on as Rupert rushes in, looking for his father. He announces to everyone that the Boswell's trailer is on fire. The two brothers and Ben, scorched, stand there. Ben is holding Anna's dead body in his arms. He speaks to her, deadpan. He says that it is the oldest tradition of the Gypsies to burn the entire trailer with all of their possessions when someone dies. His mother can now rest in peace; the trailer and Anna are burning. The scene suddenly cuts back to the same exact scene from the beginning, with Anna in the Fortune Teller's tent. The Fortune Teller repeats her fortune for Anna and finishes by saying, "May God protect you, my dear."

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Cast Size: Flexible Cast Size
Cast Type: Children
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Alfred Harris
The father and head of the Harris family. An alcoholic loudmouth who often doesn't think before speaking, but takes orders from his wife.
Gender: male
Age: 40 to 55
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Doris Harris
Alfred's wife and mother of the Harris family. She disapproves her husband's boorish qualities and gives the commands in their relationship.
Gender: female
Age: 40 to 60
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Anna Harris
Raven-haired daughter for Alfred. A dreamer and believer in the supernatural, she finds a companion in Bendigo and put into a trance when around him.
Gender: female
Age: 13 to 13
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Nelson Boswell
The father and head of Boswell family. A worn man who will defend his family to no end, but is frustrated with his son Bendigo.
Gender: male
Age: 40 to 55
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Bendigo Boswell
Our story's title character. Son of Nelson, emotional and haunted by the spirit of his recently deceased mother. He falls in love with Anna, initially due to her resemblance to his mother.
Gender: male
Age: 14 to 14
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Jago Boswell
One of Bendigo's brothers, a hothead who is quick to point the finger. He enjoys horsing around and picking on his brother.
Gender: male
Age: 10 to 13
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Rupert Fowler
George Fowler's son. A cruel boy who looks down on the Boswells, he is considered the ringleader behind driving the family off his father's land.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Jack Fisher
A local child and Elsie's brother. He is the loudmouth who likes to taunt the Boswell family and spread rumors.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Andrew Parker
School friend of Rupert's from Gloucestershire. Public schooling has made him polite and disapproving of his friend's cruelty.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Mr. Jellicoe
The "Lolly" man and choirmaster. Friendly towards the local children, often holding impromptu staged wedding ceremonies for them.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 50
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Reverend Wilkins
The local vicar and a secret alcoholic. He enjoys making big speeches and is stubbornly set in the ways of older traditions.
Gender: male
Age: 50 to 60
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Black Amos
An itinerant gypsy and violin player who forms a friendship with Bendigo. It is revealed that he killed Nelson's wife and, after being expelled from the tribe, followed the Boswells to the farm to get his wagon back.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 50
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Ballad Singer
The singing narrator. Takes no part in the dramatic action but represents the concept of a "Greek Chorus."
Gender: any
Age: 20 to 60
Vocal range top: D4
Vocal range bottom: C3
Harris Children (Sally, Reg, Ron, Jimmy, Charlie); Boswell Children (Supplista, Cinderella, Abel, Nathaniel, Dominic)
Full Song List
Bendigo Boswell: Ballad
Bendigo Boswell: The Fields Of Kent
Bendigo Boswell: Hopping Time
Bendigo Boswell: Let's All Go Down The Strand
Bendigo Boswell: We Live In The Strand
Bendigo Boswell: Hopping Is All Over
Bendigo Boswell: Down In the Green Gardens Of Kent
Bendigo Boswell: Hopping Knees Up
Bendigo Boswell: All Through Mi Rakli
Bendigo Boswell: The Early Sun
Bendigo Boswell: Hopper Wedding March
Bendigo Boswell: Here Comes The Groom
Bendigo Boswell: Praise To The Spotless
Bendigo Boswell: The Lament
Bendigo Boswell: Why Am I Always The Bridesmaid?
Bendigo Boswell: The Gipsy Dance
Bendigo Boswell: The Kentish Hop (Country Dance)

Show History


Commissioned by BBC Television, Bendigo Boswell was developed by the acclaimed National Youth Music Theatre in 1982. With a book by Jacques Deval and Jeremy James Taylor, music by Peter Allwood and lyrics by Jeremy James Taylor, it is a haunting tale of the dramatic consequences that harboring prejudices can have. The show premiered in 1982 at The Brewhouse Theatre in Tauton before then playing the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and finally landing at the George Square Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Following its success at the Edinburgh Fringe, Bendigo Boswell was then aired on BBC 2 and became part of a documentary that followed the development of the show.

Cultural Influence

  • In 1983, the documentary, "Children's Music: The Making of Bendigo Boswell" was released. The documentary looks at the creation of the BBC-commissioned work from Children's Music Theatre, tracing the development of the play, from auditions and writing all the way through the final performance.

Critical Reaction

"A joyful, life enhancing experience, skillfully encompassing all the emotions."
– The Scotsman

"A lively and vibrant show."
– National Operatic and Dramatic Association



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