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Female Transport: Review

Female Transport: Review

Shock and awe theatre
FIRST there were three men in a boat, which turned into a comic romp. But then along came six women in a ship – which is a completely different kettle of fish.

Female TransportFemale Transport at the Playhouse TheatreThe Lindley Players’ production of Female Transport at Whitstable’s Playhouse Theatre was a dark, bleak affair about women convicts couped up in the bowels of a prison ship bound for the penal colony of Australia. By rights, Peter Harrington’s staggeringly impressive two-storey set of an entire ship on stage should have stolen the show. But it is credit to the talents of the six actors that the set quickly became secondary to the gripping below-decks world of cat-fights, punishments and even a shocking suicide.

The programme warned of “very strong language” which is like saying Adolf Hitler was a little naughty. It was shocking, with lots of f-ing and a liberal use of the c-word. As one elderly woman in the audience remarked: “I didn’t like the language but I suppose that’s what they were like.” After a while it seemed to settle down, or perhaps we just became immune to it, which is shocking in itself.

Katie Campbell shone as nasty Nance who began the show stealing food from other prisoners and was so defiant she ended up being manacled inside a wooden barrel and then getting 24 lashes at the mast. There were so many wounds, make-up artist Stuart Webb had to import special heavy-duty blood which didn’t drip. Newcomer Jessica Storer cried an awful lot as Pitty and eventually ended her own suffering by hanging herself in the cell. It was terrible to see her dangling from the ship’s timbers – and a tribute to the special effects crew. Louise Chapman, back in the Lindleys’ fold, played the sickly Sarah who “befriended” Dave Rogers’ naive young cabin boy Tommy; newcomer Alison Cook was Madge and Clare Snashall played Winnie, the tea-maker and “matron”. Sarah Bradley had most of the words as the catty and conniving Charlotte. Above decks were Dan Coles as the ship’s money-hungry surgeon; Peter Bressington as the lugubrious captain and the rough-and-ready Roy Brown as Sarge, who exerted his will over the women.

The show, directed by Mandy Hunt, was the Lindley’s entry into the Kent Drama Festival and was judged by Charles Evans on Saturday. If nothing else, lighting guru Chris Hatton must be up for an award. Seldom have lights added so much atmosphere to a play in such a subtle way. Music was provided by Herne Bay’s Sue Hudson, once part of folk duo Tundra.

John Nurden

Whitstable Times Review: 1st April 2011

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