Watch the preview: A Girl’s Guide to World War


girl's guide world war cooper bedford

Brisbane soon gets the chance to experience a brilliant new Australian musical that brings to life an inspiring true story. And it’s a local story.  A Girl’s Guide to World War reintroduces Brisbane audiences to lifetime partners and civic heroines, Dr Lilian Cooper and Miss Josephine Bedford.

Scroll down for A Girl’s Guide to World War video preview.

In 1916, Dr Lilian Cooper wanted to go to war. Not to fight but to doctor. The army turned her down but she and Josephine Bedford went anyway. They paid their own way and volunteered near the front lines.

The following year changed their lives forever and A Girl’s Guide to World War tackles that year with a passion equalling that of the lead characters.

Featuring the award-winning all-girl band Vix and the Slick Chix, as well as unforgettable characters, stirring songs and rollicking humour, it is at heart a truly uplifting love story.

Actress Susie French (Menopause the Musical, Mamma Mia) also took home Best Supporting Actress for her brilliant performance as the smoking, swearing lesbian surgeon, Dr Lilian Cooper.

Written by local couple, Katy Forde and Aleathea Monsour, A Girl’s Guide to World War reveals an astonishing true story of courage and compassion amidst the chaos of war. It’s groundbreaking musical theatre with two devoted women reclaiming the story of two devoted women.

The passion shows.

Sell-out shows, rave reviews plus awards

QNews spoke with Katy Forde about a production that already enjoyed sell-out shows, rave reviews and won the 2019 Matilda Award for Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work.

QNews: How did you first meet the amazing Dr Lilian Cooper?

Katy: It was a lucky accident. My partner Aleathea worked at QUT in the Brisbane CBD. We met up after work and as we strolled down George Street, we stopped to look at a beautiful old 1890s building called ‘The Mansions’. (The stone cats on top in place of gargoyles makes it distinctive.)

And then we noticed a plaque out the front that said Queensland’s first female doctor once lived there: Dr Lilian Cooper.

Who was this woman? How did she come to be Queensland’s first female doctor?

We started researching and discovered that Dr Cooper lived her entire adult life with a woman, Miss Josephine Bedford.

The two women were devoted to each other. However, history likes to label Miss Bedford as a ‘companion’ and ‘good friend’. When historians argue this point with me, I tell them to visit Lilian and Josephine’s graves at Toowong Cemetery. The ladies are buried in the same grave. This is highly unusual for two women of the time. (In fact, I’ve tried to find another instance of it, and could only find one in the UK. That grave says ‘We were gloriously happy’. If readers know of any other graves like this, please do let us know!)

A lifelong love story

In short, this is a lifelong love story that needed telling.

Our passion for these women became unstoppable. We knew we wanted to do a musical about them but couldn’t decide where to focus. They accomplished so much every year of their lives! Finally, after years of research, we decided to focus on just one year: the year they went to war.

QNews: The feedback for A Girl’s Guide to World War is phenomenal.

Best show I have seen in forever – the performances are world-class – a must-see production – a wonderful story about true Aussie heroes. And the music… beautiful – don’t miss this show.

Were you surprised by the audience embrace of these sadly long-forgotten heroes?

Katy: Lilian and Jo’s story is expansive and magnificent, so I wasn’t surprised! But what is surprising is that audiences took a risk and came out to see a new Australian musical theatre production, not knowing what they were going to get. I feel so grateful to audiences for doing that!

QNews: In addition to Dr Cooper and Josephine Bedford, you introduce us to another pioneering female doctor?

Katy: Yes, the story is told from the point of view of the socially awkward, self-restrained Dr Agnes Bennett. Dr Bennett is the polar opposite of the swearing, outspoken Dr Cooper!

Dr Bennett found Dr Cooper difficult to deal with at first, but they developed a deep respect for each other. However, Dr Cooper’s influence on the ‘young girls’ worried Dr Bennett. She thought Dr Cooper spoke too ‘openly’ and the girls paid too much attention to her. I love this so much! I love thinking about the ‘influence’ Dr Cooper had on the young minds of the girls who worked at the hospital. It’s one of the things I included in the show.

Colourful characters

And the musical celebrates a host of other colourful characters too: the clueless but courageous upper-class ‘ambulance girls’; the obedient young nurse who wants to break free – it’s a mix of wild personalities, but it works!

These women were able to create the best hospital on the frontline. Their woman-run hospital was so good, that the army hospitals along the front sent their surgeons to train under Dr Lilian Cooper!

They became a family over there. They broke the rules in a way never before done. For these women, and for all women, life would never be the same.  

And we’re bringing the show to Brisbane Powerhouse which is just perfect.

Brisbane is where Lilian and Josephine lived and loved. They changed the town in so many wonderful ways. Lilian was a founding member of the RACQ, Josephine started the first kindergartens – they gave countless talks to women about health; they supported numerous charities.

They gave back. I hope in a small way this musical helps us give back to them.

Brisbane Powerhouse Underground Theatre.

Thursday 3 – Sunday 20 February 2022.

Tickets: Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse takes the safety of patrons, staff and artists seriously.

A COVID Safe Plan is in place for Brisbane Powerhouse.

A Girl’s Guide to World War – trailer

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