DRIP Drop Theatre will premiere E C R Roberts’s new musical, The Pecking Order, in and around Harrogate from November 21 to 24.

The show tells the story of 17-year-old Amy, who moves to rural North Yorkshire from York, along with her parents. Initially opposed to the change, Amy nevertheless begins to enjoy the outdoor life, helped by her blossoming friendship with young farmer Ben.

Brenda, Ben’s mother, is displeased with this friendship, however, seeing Amy as an incomer and someone who may turn Ben’s head away from the farm. The female young farmers are not too taken with Amy either, and Amy’s friends are not too taken with them.

The chickens in Amy’s garden have their own system of unspoken hierarchy, but how will the girls and the women sort out “The Pecking Order”, ponders playwright Emily Roberts, whose stage works appear under the name of E C R Roberts.

“My last musical, Going Grey, was performed for a total of 15 nights across three production runs in 2012 and 2013 in North Yorkshire, including in York at 41 Monkgate, and our theatre group, Drip Drop Theatre, played to full houses every night,” she says.

“Now I’ve written another show, The Pecking Order, and my main aim in writing and putting on a musical is to entertain the audience with the songs. I like to write a variety of songs that are sung by different combinations of the characters. In The Pecking Order, there’s a musical mix of gentle ballad, upbeat comedy, everyday pop, traditional folk and even a whiff of classical. The lyrics in many of the songs relate to the rural setting. The choreography contains a homespun mix of largely energetic styles.”

Emily’s home is in a countryside community close to Kirkby Malzeard, near Ripon. “Having lived in rural North Yorkshire for the past 11 years, I’ve not been short of inspiration for the show. There’s a line in the song ‘That’s Farming’ which begins, ‘When the wind is gale force ten, and the power’s off again’. I actually wrote those lines by candle light during a 27-hour power cut!” she says.

Two main themes run through Emily’s story. “One is what it is to be perceived as ‘incomers’ into a rural community in which families have lived for generations, and the other is the strange hierarchy that exists between the female characters. There are many references to chickens throughout the show, including the title song, The Pecking Order, which deals with the overall theme of always being at the bottom, no matter what you do.”

Playing the Peacock family will be Charlie Dewis as Ben, Rachel Warren, Brenda, and Adrian Roberts, George, while the roles of the Beresford family go to Kiera Bollon as Amy, Cathryn Brown, Helena, and Daniel Wilmot, Richard. The young farmers will be played by Emma Kennedy as Sam, Jess Parnell, Debs, Martyna Wielgomas, Andy, Ben Smith, Dodger, Tom Hawkins, Spud, and Adam Dickson, Skids; the schoolgirls will be Kathryn Green as Hatty, Holly Higlett, Fliss, and Emilia Clipston, Peeps.

Joining pianist Emily in the band will be John List and Simon Mordey on violin, Heath Lanzillotti on guitar and Rachel Smith on cello.

The Pecking Order can be seen at All Saints’ Church, Kirkby Overblow, near Harrogate, on November 21; St John’s Church, Sharow, Ripon, November 22; Ripley Town Hall, near Harrogate, November 23, and Kirkby Malzeard Mechanics Institute, November 24. All performances start at 7.30pm; tickets are available from the Harrogate theatre box office, in person, on 01423 502116 or online at harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Show profits will be donated to the British Hen Welfare Trust.

Charles Hutchinson