Sunday, June 24, 2012


at the Hush House

To celebrate their 30th year, Eastern Angles have revived one of their greatest hits, performed for the Millennium in village halls all over their patch.

But this time Margaret Catchpole has been re-imagined on a more epic scale.

Epic in its design. The broad arena of the Hush House – a revelation in the site-specific Bentwater Roads of 2010 – allows us to have a shoreline, with shingle, and impressive landing stages that do service as smugglers' boats, and, memorably, as a man'o'war.

Epic in its performance. We have four musicians, and as well as a cast of six, the impressive forces of the Community Chorus: no mere supernumeraries, but real Suffolk characters, including a nicely nuanced vicar from
Tony Barnard.  And some big set pieces, like the battle and the Harvest Home, with singing and dancing.

Appropriately for Olympic year, Alastair Cording's piece celebrates a folk hero and noted horsewoman, as she struggles between her duty to her father and to her employers and her "unfortunate fixation" for the "Freetrader" Will Laud, played with just the right balance of swagger and sincerity by Francis Woolf.

There's a Dickensian sense of injustice, of broken hopes, of the harshness of fate, of lives balanced between good and evil, all well brought out in Ivan Cutting's production. There's a pleasing symmetry to the dramatic structure: the urgent knocking at the doctor's door, the desperate bareback ride. Australia is a leitmotiv, whether as a New Start or as a penal sentence.

Pete Sowerbutts is Margaret's father, his life destroyed by her ill-advised liaison, and also the local doctor, who sees her as a wild child who must be tamed. Two excellent characterizations.

Her first love, the shy but determined John Barry is sympathetically drawn by Liam Bewley – his determination survives as he joins the Revenue Men, sworn enemies of those who land moonshine at the Sizewell Gap, not least his rival for Margaret's hand, and his accomplice Luff [Gareth Hinsley].

Margaret herself is Rosalind Steele, who makes us feel the distress of this remarkable woman, sharing her joy at reading a letter, her sorrow at her many setbacks. There's a "cheerful alteration" in her life when she is taken on by the Cobbolds. Elizabeth [Becky Pennick], wife of the brewery owner, treats Margaret more like a sister than a servant, teaches her to read and write, and remains true to her even when her trusts are betrayed.

This is a fine revival, well worth schlepping out to remotest Rendlesham for, full of memorable theatrical triumphs: Margaret's plaintive "Ride the White Horses", her imagined roan mount, Laud's letter which she painstakingly reads as he prompts her from across the ocean, and the final tableau, the whole company frozen in farewell as our heroine walks into the infinite exile of the Hush House tunnel.

production photograph: Mike Kwasniak

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