Published: 5 February 2010
by PETER GRUNER
First there was Evita the musical, then Jerry Springer the Opera. Now a folk opera about Lisa Pontecorvo – a Barnsbury environmental activist – is coming to a theatre near you.
Veteran musical writer Rob Inglis, whose popular one-man shows and productions have been performed everywhere from community centres to the Shaw Theatre in King’s Cross, is working on the life story of the “inspirational” Lisa.
Ms Pontecorvo, from Thornhill Square, died at the age of 64 in a road accident involving a lorry in Holloway two years ago. She is best known in Islington for her full-time battle to save semi-derelict Edward Square, off Copenhagen Street, from falling into the hands of developers in the 1990s.
Largely thanks to her, it is now a popular community garden, opened by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion in 1999. Lisa’s face was inscribed on a wall mural at the garden square not long after she died.
The new musical, expected to be ready by April or May, will be a labour of love for Mr Inglis, a former Royal Shakespeare Company actor, as he knew Ms Pontecorvo for many years and supported her campaigns.
Lisa will be played by actress Sophie Talbot, herself a formidable campaigner who helped organise last year’s Tolpuddle march in Islington. She is battling with Network Rail for a pedestrian bridge over newly-refurbished King’s Cross station.
Mr Inglis, who lives in Camden Town, has written musicals about other local characters, including early feminist Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and slum campaigner Father Basil Jellicoe. He is artistic director of the Musical Flying Squad.
He said: “Lisa was not always an easy person to get on with but was an inspirational figure. She wasn’t interested in the mundane or the frivolous.
“It seemed she devoted every waking hour to her campaigns, mainly about the environment where she lived.
“Sophie, who is a lot younger, will play various aspects of Lisa’s life and is perfect for the part. She’s a good professional actress and also a tough campaigner against bureaucracy and inertia.”
The show is expected to open at the new Assembly Hall, next door to Islington town hall, later this year before touring small theatres and community centres around the country.
A freelance BBC TV history researcher, Ms Pontecorvo was the daughter of an eminent Italian scientist, Professor Guido Pontecorvo, known as the “godfather of genetics”. Her uncles were film director Gillo Pontecorvo, best known for the classic Battle of Algiers, and renowned physicist Bruno Pontecorvo.