Thursday, August 18

Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse – Shakespeare North Playhouse

Kitty Wilkinson is the only female statue in Liverpool’s St George’s Hall, and she is brought to life by Samantha Alton to take us back to 1830’s Liverpool in a captivating one-woman show that tells an against all odds story of how a working-class Irish migrant girl, whose life was laden with poverty, loss, and hardship, fought the cholera epidemic and became a community champion.

Shakespeare North Playhouse’s Sir Ken Dodd Performance Garden provides the perfect backdrop for this intricate tale from celebrated local writer John Maguire which, told with humour and kindness, brings Kitty’s story centre stage under the direction of Margaret Connell as we are immersed in the world of a true heroine of the North.

White sheets draping the open set provide the perfect backdrop for the narrative to unfold, and as well as creating a background for the washhouse, it also allows techniques such as shadow work to be explored. The ever-changing mood of the piece is hinted at through the use of voiceover with accompanying special effects providing added drama such as the stormy weather of a boat crossing from Ireland which is complemented by a strong physical performance that captures the violent rocking motion of the ship perfectly.

Alton, covered with a layer of chalk white make up, recounts her tale with a skilled and versatile display that illustrates not only the strength of Wilkinson but also her moments of fragility with subtle changes in her intonation highlighting the wit and determination of her character, whilst providing insight into the world around her.

Ever the consummate performer, Alton was responsive to the challenges that an open venue can bring, dealing with some moments of inclement weather with good grace and touches of humour that the audience appreciated.

Coming in at almost an hour, there is a lot of pressure to maintain the activity and energy levels which Alton achieved through her accomplished use of the space and clever re-purposing of props to maintain our interest: this is the story of an extraordinary woman told through an equally extraordinary performance.

ArtsGroupie CIC is a community interest company that is promoting and providing access to the arts in the North West and beyond through the development of touring theatre and music productions, educational workshops and heritage conservation projects. Further details https://www.artsgroupie.org/

Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot is a brand-new theatre for the North with bags of history and loads of ambition. Further details https://shakespearenorthplayhouse.co.uk/

Kitty Queen of the Washhouse plays at Shakespeare North Playhouse through to 24th July with ticket prices starting from £3 on a ‘Pay What You Decide’ basis which places the power in your hands to pay more if you feel the production is worth it.

A performance is also scheduled for St George’s Hall in Liverpool on 9th October, further details https://www.stgeorgeshallliverpool.co.uk/events/kitty-queen-of-the-washhouse/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 23rd July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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