Margaret Down Under

JOHN LAWSON Walter Roy Theatre, Hewett School, Norwich (on tour)


> Walter Roy Theatre, Hewett School, Norwich

Alastair Cording's epic storytelling is brought to life by the ever-impressive Eastern Angles company in a drama full of power and emotion.

The sequel to his millennium production for the company about Ipswich woman Margaret Catchpole, who became a legend at the turn of the 19th century after being sentenced to transportation for life, follows Margaret (a steely portrayal by Karren Winchester) on the year-long voyage to Botany Bay and her efforts to make a new life in the corrupt colony.

In truth, Margaret's only real crime was in following her heart in search of the love of her life - but in taking a horse to meet him in London she found herself an outlaw. And when he broke her out of Ipswich jail to begin a new life abroad, the couple set themselves on a path to tragedy as he was gunned down in the escape - and she was sent to Australia for life.

Director Ivan Cutting brings the brutality and squalor of life aboard the convict ships into sharp focus on designer Rachel Downey's clever set in which the sails of the ship act as curtains to screen sections of the action.

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And the apparent jolliness of traditional folk songs only serve to emphasise the efforts convicts and crew had to make to draw some comfort from the insanity of their positions.

Margaret is destined to love and lose again when the ship's lovelorn captain (John Langford) is torn from her on their arrival.

She is then brutalised and used by the evil settlement chief Capt MacAllister (chillingly played by Neil Summerville).

Similarly wronged are good-time girl Lizzie (Ceri West, wringing comedy and tragedy from her character in equal measures) and Sadie McMahon as the well-bred Rose, who sees no way out of her predicament other than to prostitute herself first with the ship's lieutenant and then with MacAllister.

At two and a half hours, this is a mighty play but such is the quality of the playing and the story that it grips the interest from beginning to end.

t Margaret Down Under is on tour across the region until November 27. Full details at