Morecambe Bay cockling disaster to become musical

Victims of Morecambe Bay cockling disaster Image copyright PA
Image caption The victims, aged between 18 and 45, were working to send money back to their families

The story of how 23 Chinese cockle pickers lost their lives in Morecambe Bay is to be made into a musical.

Sinking Water, which takes its name from a cockler's emergency call on 5 February 2004, would "humanise" what happened, writer Daniel York said.

The idea for the work won a £12,000 Musical Theatre Writing Award on the 12th anniversary of the disaster.

Former Det Supt Mick Gradwell, who investigated the deaths, said he hoped it would raise awareness.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The victims of the disaster were caught by the incoming tide while cockling at night

Twelve years ago, a group of Chinese cocklers working in the dark found themselves caught by the incoming tide.

A night-time rescue operation was launched after one cockler, Guo Bing Long, called 999 and said: "Sinking water, many many, sinking water... Sinking water, sinking water."

York, who created the piece with Craig Adams, said that as a person of Chinese descent, the story "resonated with me, [as] most of the people who drowned were from where my lineage comes from".

"If my ancestors had taken a different path, I could have been on that beach."

'Completely original'

He said the story would encompass "the fullness of the human experience, which includes comedy and love".

"Our standard image of a musical is jolly entertainment, but if you look at Les Misérables, it's about poverty, desperation and people being murdered by the state, and West Side Story is about racially-motivated gang warfare.

"Our intentions are to create something that humanises the whole thing and makes us think 'that could be any one of us in a situation like that, given different circumstances'."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Members of the emergency services will also feature in the musical

Mr Gradwell, who led the investigation into the disaster, said when he first heard about the musical, he thought he "was being wound up".

But "having thought about it, it's quite a good idea", he said as it raises the profile of the disaster.

"People expect me to be outraged, but I'm not. Done in the right way, it could add some meaning to what happened."

However, he said he would "probably not" go and see the show.

"When I think of Morecambe Bay, I think of that tape [of Guo Bing Long's call] and going and seeing the bodies in the mortuary.

"But I wish [the musical] well and I hope it is done in the right taste."

Image copyright Wendy Barnes
Image caption York (far left) said the musical would encompass "the fullness of the human experience"

The writing duo were chosen as winners of the Perfect Pitch and Theatre Royal Stratford East award. They will create a full draft for the show with the theatre over the next 12 months.

Perfect Pitch executive director Andy Barnes said it was "something completely original" and a "gem of an idea".

Artistic director Kerry Michael said Sinking Water was "a stirring and emotive piece of theatre which asks bigger questions of the British psyche, our attitude to cheap labour, migrants and foreign deaths".

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