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Norfolk folk-opera The Transports to be staged at special free outdoor performances

PUBLISHED: 10:15 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 17:11 03 August 2017

Norwich theatre company Crude Apache will be staging Peter Bellamy’s folk-opera The Transports at a series of free outdoor performances. Picture: Al Pulford

Norwich theatre company Crude Apache will be staging Peter Bellamy’s folk-opera The Transports at a series of free outdoor performances. Picture: Al Pulford

AL PULFORD PHOTOGRAPHY

Norwich folk singer Peter Bellamy’s ground-breaking ballad opera is being revived by local theatre company Crude Apache for the series of performances in parks and outdoors spaces in August.

Norwich actress Gillian Dean (standing)  takes centre stage for the performances playing imprisoned young lover Susannah Holmes. Picture: Submitted Norwich actress Gillian Dean (standing) takes centre stage for the performances playing imprisoned young lover Susannah Holmes. Picture: Submitted

Norfolk folk singer Peter Bellamy’s ground-breaking ballad opera The Transports is being revived by innovative local theatre company Crude Apache for a series of free outdoor performances.

After the massive success of their production in Norwich’s Dragon Hall in 2013, the first time that the piece had been performed in Norwich since 1985, Crude Apache are bringing it to parks and open spaces around Norwich and Norfolk during August.

Originally a 1977 ‘concept album’ the legendary folk-opera topped all that year’s folk charts and is perhaps the most important work by the influential Norwich-based Bellamy.

It featured such folk luminaries as Mike and Norma Waterson, Dave Swarbrick, June Tabor and Martin Carthy and in recent years has been included in Mojo magazine’s Top 100 recordings of the 20th Century and the BBC’s Best folk Albums of the 20th Century.

Always a flamboyant, outspoken and controversial figure, Peter Bellamy author of The Transports. Picture: Submitted Always a flamboyant, outspoken and controversial figure, Peter Bellamy author of The Transports. Picture: Submitted

It tells the true story of Henry Kabel and Susannah Holmes. In 1783 they were both convicted of petty theft, imprisoned in Norwich Castle and sentenced to transportation as part the first fleet of convicts to be transported to the new world.

The couple married and prospered in the new world. In an inspiring story of offender rehabilitation Henry made a fortune from sealing and whaling, founded a mail service in Australia and went on to become the Colony’s first Chief Constable. His dynasty survives today and many of his descendants travel from Australia to visit Norwich and its castle where their ancestors were incarcerated.

The very first live production of The Transports took place in Norwich Castle in 1978 and it has since been performed at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Bracknell Festival and at the 1991 Whitby Festival as a memorial to Peter who had shocked and baffled his family and friends when he took his own life that year.

Always a flamboyant, outspoken and controversial figure, Bellamy was a “love him or hate him” performer whose singing style earned him the anagram nickname Elmer P Bleaty.

Originally a 1977 ‘concept album’ the legendary folk-opera featured Mike and Norma Waterson, Dave Swarbrick, June Tabor and Martin Carthy. Originally a 1977 ‘concept album’ the legendary folk-opera featured Mike and Norma Waterson, Dave Swarbrick, June Tabor and Martin Carthy.

Born in 1944, he grew up in Warham, north Norfolk, the son of a farm manager and was first captivated by American folk songs, skiffle and black music. He attended Norwich Art School and was introduced to Norfolk traditional song by city folkie Cliff Godbold.

With these outdoor performances Crude Apache, under musical director Tim Lane and director Panda Monium, will recreate The Transports for a modern audience with a cast of 12 singers and 10 musicians. The production will add a new theatricality to the work and a modern feel to the music without losing the spirit and soul of Bellamy’s remarkable and timeless original.

Norwich actress Gillian Dean, who had a major role in the recent ITV drama Home Fires, takes centre stage for the performances playing imprisoned young lover Susannah Holmes.

“We put the show on in the spring of 2013 for 10 nights at Dragon Hall in Norwich to great public and critical acclaim,” said Tim Lane. “The show involved an ensemble cast of 12 actors, most of them playing a variety of parts and a nine piece band.”

Norwich theatre company Crude Apache will be staging Peter Bellamy’s folk-opera The Transports at a series of free outdoor performances. Picture: Al Pulford Norwich theatre company Crude Apache will be staging Peter Bellamy’s folk-opera The Transports at a series of free outdoor performances. Picture: Al Pulford

Explaining how he got involved in reviving such an iconic work, Tim added: “Towards the end of 2011 a friend suggested that Crude Apache stage a theatrical presentation of The Transports and that I should be the musical director. At the time, whilst I was familiar with some of Bellamy’s more famous songs, I knew very little about the man and even less about the album considered to be his magnum opus but I said “yes” anyway. I wrote new arrangements of the songs and acted as musical director whilst fellow Crude Apache members Jo Edye and Panda Monium directed the performance. As it turned out this was one of the best snap decisions I’ve ever made.”

• The Transports is being staged in Norwich at Heigham Park on August 3 (7.30pm). Performances will also take place at the Whiffler Theatre, Castle Gardens, Norwich, on August 5 (7.30pm) and August 6 (2.30pm); Whitlingham Broad on August 10 (7.30pm); Wymondham Becketswell on August 11 (7.30pm); Geldeston Locks Inn on August 12 (7.30pm); and Kett’s Heights in Norwich on August 13 (2.30pm).

• More details at crudeapache.wordpress.com

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