A WORLD premiere of a play about Bolton-born soap tycoon Lord Leverhulme is being staged.
Walkden writer Kevan Ogden has written Sunlight on the Moors specifically for Bolton Little Theatre, with his focus being one of the great businessmen and entrepreneurs of the Victorian age.
A warm and witty mixture of fact and fiction, it explores family tensions, the legacy of World War One, the paradox behind philanthropic industrialisation and the nature of art itself.
Tickets for the play’s run, at the Hanover Street theatre until Saturday, have sold out but there are plans to repeat it in August
It begins in 1920 when Lord Leverhulme is at his Rivington home when the artist, Augustus John, arrives to paint his portrait.
What follows is the story of the two men clashing — both temperamentally and artistically — with Leverhulme increasingly isolated as his war-scarred nephew, Eric, sides with the bohemian artist and his mistress Dorelia.
But when Leverhulme's intemperate reaction to the finished portrait inadvertently triggers an international outcry in the art world, it is Eric who comes to the rescue.
Peter Schofield, director of Sunlight on the Moors, said: “Lord Leverhulme was the man universally known as ‘the chief’ by workmen and famously did not like to be argued against.
“If senior staff dared to debate a point, he would answer with one of his favourite sayings, “Aye, nay, we won’t argue; you’re wrong!”
“Yet Lord Leverhulme of Bolton-le-Moors, as he came to be known when raised to the peerage in 1917, served very many people in very many ways.
“For his workers at Port Sunlight he was a paternalistic benefactor, decades ahead of his time.”
In Bolton, the town continued to benefit from Lever’s generosity long after he made his move to Port Sunlight, a model village built by Lever Brothers in 1988 to accommodate workers from their soap factory, now part of Unilever, which is also home to the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
In 1899, Lord Leverhulme bought Hall i’th’ Wood, restored it, filled it with furniture and household goods as a memorial to its most famous resident, Samuel Crompton, before presenting it to the town as a museum.
When he died in 1925, he left a share of his holdings in his company to provide for specific trades charities and to offer scholarships for research and education.
Sunlight on the Moors will star Mike Jeffries as Lord Leverhulme, Daniel Clynes as Eric, John O'Connell as Augustus John and Jennifer Lee as Dorelia.