Writer: Alastair Cording
Director: Ivan Cutting
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
It sounds the stuff of some swashbuckling adventure novel. Tales of smugglers, horse theft, inter- gang rivalry, prison escape and a lucky escape from the hangman’s noose. Like all the best stories though, this one is true but with a twist as the felon here is a young woman.
Margaret Catchpole has entered into Suffolk folklore, a young woman who falls in love with a smuggler and steals her employer’s horse to ride an epic ten hour chase to London to find her man. What lifts this from many other tales of, what now seems petty crime, is the story behind Catchpole’s exploits.
In a time where a womanisn’teven supposed to ride a horse, Margaret strikes an independent furrow. Devoted to the man she loves, she sets about bettering herself in an effort to gain a more comfortable life, learning to read and write in the employ of local brewing family the Cobbolds. Will Laud, the subject of her affections, may initially be on a less honourable route but both Laud and Catchpole are somewhat dealt a hard card from the interference of Cobbold’s employer and doctor.
First performed 12 years ago and revived for Eastern Angles 30th anniversary celebrations, Alastair Cording’s script has an epic feel to match Catchpole’s epic exploits. In Cording’s telling, Margaret’s misdemeanours and trails take up a surprisingly small section of the action; instead we learn more about her backdrop, her hopes and dreams and the circumstances that lead to her crime.
Such an epic tale is now given an epic staging, this revival playing in the Hush House at Bentwaters airfield, a former cold-war engine test hanger. Rosie Alabaster’s set stretches from the shingle of the Suffolk coast, across fields to the wooden stables, a wide expanse for the company to play and roam over. The revised production also adds in new music from Jonathan Girling, an evocative mix of percussive themes and folk infused ballads. Continuing the epic, for this anniversary revival a community chorus have joined the professional actors, populating the Suffolk countryside.
As befits a piece about a remarkable woman, at the heart of the show is a remarkable performance from Rosalind Steele. Steele gives Catchpole a real depth, a woman on one hand consumed by love but also a woman frustrated by the social and class restrictions placed on her and desperate to prove herself. It’s a performance that commands attention and elicits sympathy for Margaret without resorting to rose tinted glasses.
There’s also fine support from Francis Woolf as Catchpole’s love, Will Laud, and Liam Bewley as John Barry, a man conflicted by his duty to the law and his own, unrequited love, for Margaret. There’s also some nice chemistry between Steele and Becky Pennick as Catchpole’s employer Elizabeth Cobbold. There’s a real sense that despite the difference in status, there’s more similarities here than either would like to admit, both trapped in rôles that perhaps never satisfy.
With such a formidable environment as the Hush House, the building itself almost becomes a character in its own right. The cavernous hanger causes some reverberation problems, with an echo causing some distraction, especially in early scenes but these can easily be overcome.
As Margaret is transported off to Australia we’re reminded that her story didn’t end here and in fact Eastern Angles produced a sequel ‘Margaret Down Under’ – a revival for the 40th anniversary?