Remembering wartime canal women

On Remembrance Sunday, I am very pleased to have been able to highlight the role the Women’s Training Scheme played in the war effort on the British canals. The work I have been doing with Alarum Theatre, telling the stories of these mainly middle class women, will feature on BBC Countryfile this evening at 6.20pm on BBC1. Also included will be Kathryn Dodington whose aunt Daphne March (Daffy) carried cargo throughout World War 2 on her family owned boat, Heather Bell. As Kathryn told me, Daffy’s motivation for doing this work was ‘service’. It is also important to remember the women of the working families who didn’t have the choice; this is what they were born to, and they just got on with it. Our show Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways gives an insight into the lives of all these women.

In remembrance of the working women today, I am sharing a few lines from my piece Hillmorton Locks. This section was written after speaking to Ron who told me the story of his birth:

Emma Humphreys, expecting twins,
a boat-load of coal, her labour begins,
the war is on, the shrapnel flies,
the cabin’s tiny, her youngest cries.

Two men to thank, Albert and Ron
make sure they’re safe till danger’s gone;
under a bridge, twin boys are born,
named after the men who saved their skin.

© Heather Wastie
from Hillmorton Locks

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More shows for #TheIdleWomen

After our successful 50-show summer tour, Kate Saffin and I have put together a short run of performances of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways in and around Oxford at the end of this month. See below for dates. Here’s a review to whet your appetite:

“Both women are exceptional storytellers, their performances brimming over with personality”   London City Nights

OXFORD CANAL & THAMES October 21st-29th 2017  Tickets £10/£8

Sat 21  7.00pm  Shipton-on-Cherwell Village Hall, Kidlington OX5 1JP
Tue 24  8.00pm  St Margaret’s Institute, 30 Polstead Road OX2 6TN
Thu 26  7.30pm  Rock of Gibraltar, Station Road, Enslow OX5 3AY
Fri 27   7.30pm   Wolvercote Village Hall, 1 Wolvercote Green OX2 8AB
Sun 29  6.00pm  Unicorn Theatre, Medieval Abbey Buildings, Checker Walk, Abingdon OX14 3JB

Advance booking via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/alarum-theatre-9882552992, email admin@alarumtheatre.co.uk, phone 01865 364095 or pay on the door. See also www.alarumtheatre.co.uk

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#TheIdleWomen Recreating the Journey

My collaboration with writer, Kate Saffin, has gone from strength to strength since we first met, just a year ago! Our show Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways is about to embark on a major Arts Council funded tour, travelling by canal, recreating the journey worked by women trainees during WW2.

IWWW 2017 e-flyer

To read an article about us in the quirkily named online magazine, The Floater, click HERE or to go to the Alarum Theatre website click HERE.

Changing a space for ever 

A performance can change a space for ever. When ‘engagement and creative arts warrior’ Rachel Sharpe said words to this effect, I was struck by the truth of it. Having toured Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways to venues unused to hosting performances, I knew what she was getting at.

A good example is the Wildside Activity Centre in Wolverhampton, alongside the Staffs & Worcs Canal. The room was laid out for us to perform against the short wall of their rectangular space, the ‘top’ of the room – a wall cluttered with displays and other bits and pieces – but we chose the long wall which had several windows. We asked for the chairs to be arranged in a wide arc so that people could see us more easily, and we drew the curtains which created a simple dark backdrop without distractions. The organisers had never hosted a theatrical show before and were very accommodating. At the end of the evening, the Centre’s Project Leader, Steve, looked up at the strip lights and commented that for future events of this nature, it would be good to improve the lighting to make it more atmospheric. So a space previously seen only as an ‘activity room’ now has an added dimension as a theatre, and the success of our show has encouraged them to put on more events of this nature.

Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton


There are other venues where we didn’t feel as if our hosts had noticed that they could easily have done more to give us a quiet space where we wouldn’t have to compete with, for example, the ring of a till or loud conversation. A pub which hasn’t hosted theatre before won’t necessarily have realised that it’s not appropriate to book people in to have a meal during the show. It may not occur to them that clattering cutlery and the necessity to communicate over dinner orders is not ideal for audience and artists alike! Some hosts will have taken things like this on board for the future and others not.

Not only does a performance change the space, but the audience changes the performance. A large responsive audience in a compact space gives a virtual sounding board which lifts us. Concentration was harder when we had: a sprawling audience with people chatting at the back, a bloke in the second row holding up a device to take photos or a video, wandering and/or barking dogs, a drunken woman (who was really enjoying the show), a man in a loud shirt whose phone had a very loud ringtone …. Every performance feels different and has its own quirks, not least because of the venue and the audience, and taking theatre to non-arts spaces means working round all sorts of inconveniences whilst hoping to develop use of that space and raise awareness of how arts events can work well in community venues.

Some people have come to see our show at least twice and have said it’s even better the second time, which is good to know! Tomorrow night we’re at Theatre in the Dock in Banbury when there will be a special announcement about our exciting plans for 2017. Next year there will be opportunities for our show to have an impact on new spaces, as we take audiences into another world where much of their surroundings are imagined: the back of a boat, a pub, a lock, the towpath, top planks, tarpaulin, sirens, doodlebugs … and lots of women!

For details of our forthcoming London shows and for more information, go to the Alarum Theatre website.

#idlewomen autumn tour news!

I’m delighted to announce that ABNB Boat Brokerage will be supporting Alarum Theatre’s Autumn tour of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways! http://www.abnb.co.uk/

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Wednesday 7th Sept – 7.30pm • Garden of Camp House Inn, Grimley, WR2 6LX, 01905 640288 – In association with The Worcestershire Literary Festival & Fringe

Saturday 10th Sept – 7.30pm • The Windlass Cafe and Restaurant, Stourport, DY13 9EN, 01299 871742 – In association with Stourport Heritage Open Days, Stourport Canal Basin

Thursday 15th Sept – 7.30pm • The Folly Inn, Napton on the Hill, CV47 8NZ, 01926 815185

Friday 23rd Sept – 7.30pm • The Wildside Activity Centre, Wolverhampton, WV6 0HA, 01902 572240

Sunday 25th Sept – 1.30pm • Wolverhampton Boat Club, Codsall, Wolverhampton, WV8 1RS, 07977 101411

Friday 30th Sept – 7.30pm • Theatre in the Dock, Tooley’s Boatyard, Banbury, OX16 2PQ, 01295 272917

* Saturday 1st Oct – 2.30pm • Theatre in the Dock matinee, Tooley’s Boatyard, Banbury, OX16 2PQ, 01295 272 917
– Includes a wartime tea!

* Mon 28th & Tues 29th Nov – 7.30pm • The Rosemary Branch Theatre, Hoxton, N1 3DT, 020 7704 6665

* indicates a ticketed event (see www.alarumtheatre.co.uk for details) otherwise free entry with donations to support the artists

 

Photos from our Summer Tour:

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Didn't they have a lovely time at The Bonded Warehouse 29 June 2016

Poo Stick Parade

My poem Poo Stick Parade was written after a walk along the Staffs and Worcester Canal during which I encountered the most noisy group of walkers I have ever come across. It was published on this site for humorous poems yesterday http://www.spillingcocoa.com/poo-stick-parade-by-heather-wastie/

This week I’m doing 2 performances at venues alongside the same (very beautiful) canal. Kate Saffin and I are presenting Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways at Ashwood Marina tomorrow night and the Eagle & Spur Cookley on Wednesday. Both performances start at 7.30. See Idle Women Midlands Tour for full tour details.

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Kate & Heather, Cookley, Staffs & Worcs Canal

Grimley show cancelled due to grim conditions

Sorry folks! The stage at the Camp House Inn, Grimley is under water which has forced the venue to cancel tonight’s performance of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways. They would very much like us to reschedule so we’ll see what we can do, but in the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to catch the show. See below, and keep up to date on Facebook or Twitter @Alarum_theatre

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