Review: Margaret Catchpole, Eastern Angles, The Hush House, RAF Bentwaters until July 8.

Although Margaret Catchpole is very much an ensemble show, Eastern Angles 30th Anniversary show is as great as it is because of a towering central performance from Margaret herself. In the hands of Rosalind Steele, Nacton-born farmgirl, Margaret, is feisty, resourceful, passionate, loyal and good-hearted. It’s a real tour-de-force performance in which Rosalind skilfully shows all the different aspects of Margaret’s character and reveals the complexities in her makeup which allowed her to become of Suffolk’s timeless icons.

Support for Margaret is equally first rate with Peter Sowerbutts doing double-duty as a fabulous Dr Stebbings and Margaret’s father while Becky Pennick brings genuine understanding to Elizabeth Cobbold, Margaret’s friend and employer, the shop-owner Mrs Cracknell and good-time girl Molly.

Margaret Catchpole is the rip-roaring story of a spirited Suffolk girl, daughter of a ploughman, who falls for local sailor/smuggler Will Laud. Fate and well-intentioned friends, however, conspire to keep them apart.

However, Margaret has another suitor John Barry who joins the King’s Revenue Service in an attempt to impress her. It’s a sad tale which you know will go tragically wrong.

Francis Woolf perfectly captures Will’s roguish, devil-may-care attitude while Liam Bewley is suitably solid and dependable as Barry, the farmworker turned revenuer.

Rosie Alabaster sumptuous set makes full use of the extra space that The Hush House affords creating a full-scale jetty, a smuggler’s dinghy as well as a beach complete with shingle.

The set coupled with the Suffolk sky backdrops, combined with Fiona Simpson’s imaginative lighting gives the story a definite sense of place.

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Director Ivan Cutting’s 30th anniversary production is a great success but if I have one niggling criticism then that it could be told in a much crisper fashion.

It was a nice idea to have a community chorus and, although at times, they worked very well, at others their bits of business only slowed down the action when the play should have been gathering momentum.

Margaret Catchpole is a wonderful testimony to the work of Eastern Angles and provides a sharp contrast to their small-scale Millennium production in 2000. Ivan has given us a fabulous night with a true Suffolk heroine. I loved being in her company.

Andrew Clarke