Rendlesham: Margaret Catchpole rides again at Hush House

One of Suffolk’s most notorious daughters rides again as part of this year’s Ip-Art festival.

Not only is it acclaimed touring theatre company Eastern Angles’ 30th anniversary, it’s 250 years since infamous servant girl Margaret Catchpole’s birth.

It’s a timeless tale of love, lies and divided loyalty featuring colourful 18th century characters from brave seaman and distinguished doctors to cunning smugglers and corrupt clergy.

Charting her horse thieving and daring jailbreak from Ipswich Gaol, which saw her transported to Australia, it shows how love can make fools of us all.

Written by Alastair Cording, directed by the company’s artistic director Ivan Cutting and last performed in 2000, this new production is being staged in the atmospheric Hush House.

“It was always a favourite of ours, that’s why we did it for the millennium,” says Ivan.

“It’s the classic story of a good girl who fell in with, not really a bad crowd, but where circumstances just seem to pile up against her; we love Margaret and yet she was transported. It’s not like she was innocent, it was just she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I feel fate was cruel on her and didn’t allow Margaret the chance she should have got.

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“She does great things in a way, that ride to London was an equestrian feat,” he adds, referring to Catchpole riding John Cobbold’s coach gelding 70 miles to London in nine hours so she could be reunited with her ex-lover William Laud, only to be promptly arrested for stealing it.

“She was a determined woman who when determination took over rose to the challenge.”

Although the story remains relatively unchanged, the Hush House, on Bentwaters Parks, gave them room to embellish bits that were difficult to do last time with so few people and so little space.

It’s a popular venue with the region’s theatre groups and visiting film companies. Ivan says there’s no space like it anywhere else in the area, loving the freedom it gives them to create the set they want.

“We’ve got quite large props there, a tumbrel for example, a jetty that moves and a big hill that’s sort of 20 tonnes of rubble, plus you’ve got live musicians so it’s a nightmare really,” he laughs.

The smuggling scenes, says Ivan, also have a bit more panache and the overall story gains a new dimension, more atmosphere, as a result of the space.

The biggest addition though is the dozen or so strong community chorus who join the six actors.

“It means we’ve been able to give out some of the smaller parts to them so you get a sense of community, with the straw harvesters and the oak barrel scene. Last time we did it with six people which is a bit thin; it makes a bit of a difference this time.”

The new music is by Jonathan Girling, who has had residencies at Shakespeare’s Globe with the Royal Shakespeare Company and is currently working on a major RSC commission, Three Russian Tales, for next year.

Granted an Inspire Mark by the London 2012 Games, the new will also include folk music from local band Crownstreet and step dancing.

Eastern Angles are just about to go into rehearsals for I Heart Peterborough, which they’re taking to Edinburgh. After that is a short play about rural poet John Clare, again for Peterborough. Then at Christmas is Dial M For Murgatroyd.

Margaret Catchpole runs until July 8. Read my review elsewhere on this site.