So the reviews are coming in for Margaret Catchpole!
‘Head East’ – says Lyn Gardner in the Guardians tips– ‘for the rollicking Eastern Angles show Margaret Catchpole, a tale of 18th-century love and smuggling’. ‘Remarkable and moving’ concludes Libby Purves in The Times.
Everyone unanimously agrees the source material (the true story of Margaret Catchpole) is second to none. ‘The stuff of some swashbuckling adventure novel’ writes Glen Pearce for Public Reviews ‘tales of smugglers, horse theft, inter-gang rivalry, prison escape and a lucky escape from the hangmans noose’. ‘It’s an emotionally charged story’ concludes Basil Abbott ‘which comes to us through a mist of romantic revisionism’.
But does the performance live up to its source?
‘Such an epic tale is now given an epic staging’ (Public Reviews) by Eastern Angles artistic director Ivan Cutting. ‘It’s Full of character, a kind of Lark Rise to Ipswich’ writes Basil Abbott/Diss – ‘full of memorable moments very effectively played’ (The Stage). ‘An amazing insight into a Suffolk legend and the things we do for love’ (Wayne Savage in EADT24) whilst Michael Gray’s theatre blog concludes ‘it’s a fine revival full of memorable theatrical triumphs’.
At the heart of the show is a remarkable performance by Rosalind Steele (Public Reviews). ‘A towering central performance’ (Andrew Clarke in the EADT) ‘Rosalind is a feisty Margaret. From first to last she is a survivor but there is warmth and tenderness along the way’ (the stage) – ‘her stellar performance’ (Basil Abbott/Diss) ‘is a stunning blend of fortitude and fragility, calm and chaos, she was captivating from start to finish’ (Wayne Savage in the Eastern Daily Times)
All the other cast come in for praise too! Becky Pennick brings ‘genuine understanding’ whilst playing three different Suffolk countrywomen, all with gaiety and aplomb (The stage) – or indeed with distinction (Diss). Peter Sowerbutts (with his rich voice- The Stage) provides ‘Two excellent characterisations'(Public Reviews) as Margarets father and the dreadful Dr Stebbings. ‘He is a tall, lean, shiny-pated figure with a camp rasp in his voice’. (Diss). Francis Woolf – brings ‘romantic brio’ (Diss/Frank Abbott) and ‘magical allure’ to Will Laud the freetrader and misguided lover.(The Stage) Liam Bewley catches ‘plodding simpleton John Barry’s loyalty and honesty’ (The Stage) whilst ‘Gareth Hinsley is suitably imposing’ (The Stage)
And that’s without mentioning the impressive forces of the Community Chorus: no mere supernumeraries, but real Suffolk characters (Michael Gray’s Art Blog). The chorus also include two fiddlers and members of the folk band Crown Street playing ‘New music from Jonathan Girling, an evocative mix of percussive themes and folk infused ballads’ (public reviews). ‘The new score uses rough contemporary songs blended with subtler, sadder atmospherics’ (The Times).
‘Rosie Alabaster’s set stretches from the shingle of the Suffolk coast, across fields to the wooden stables’ (Public Reviews) ‘it fills the large space imaginatively with large white draped sails, a landing stage (that doubles as a boat, a farmhouse kitchen, an inn and a prison), a Suffolk sand dune, and a real crunchy stone beach (Stage’). It’s ‘A rough clever set [which] evokes Suffolk sea and land’. [The Times]
The show is almost into its last week over at the atmospheric Hush House the building almost becomes a character in its own right [Public reviews]. Show times, online booking details can be found here at the Eastern Angles web site. It may be a schlep over to Bentwaters – but really is well worth it! As Andrew Clarke said on twitter (@artyclarkey) ‘terrific show – catch it if you can’.