Annie Brassey returned to Hastings from success at the Edinburgh Festival with two sell-out dates at The Stables Theatre.
On the 131st anniversary of her death, the celebrated story of this woman’s extraordinary life was rapturously received by an often intrigued but very appreciative audience.
Heather Alexander’s thoughtful and informative writing allowed a very versatile and creative cast to take full advantage of this fascinating story. How do you tell a tale of sailing around the world on a 150ft clipper in the late 1800’s? Alexander achieved this with imagination and by use of some wide ranging technology including film; music; puppetry and some strong performances.
The puppetry was used to great effect to portray some of Annie’s six children who accompanied her on the travels; they also had one of the stars of the show in ‘Fluffy’ the family’s pet dog!
An opening sequence of film showing Annie at home and giving a brief summary of her lifestyle gave the audience a good understanding of the background to this fascinating and adventurous woman.
Alex Hunt as the narrator and chief puppeteer, gave the show speed and humour with an energetic and uplifting performance. Caroline Gurden demonstrated her range of talents with an amusing tea room scene as Lady Ashburnham and then onto an hilarious drunken scenario with fellow maid Lisa Harmer (who incredibly came in with 24 hours’ notice due to cast illness and gave a faultless performance).
Michael Simmonds as Countess de la Warr, Thomas Brassey, Frank White and the labourer was central to most of the story and gave both comedy and pathos to the show.
Heather commanded the stage with a powerful yet sympathetic performance which gave a real understanding of the drive and adventurous nature of the woman who was Annie Brassey. The cast fully deserved the rapturous reception from an enthused and appreciative audience for providing such an evocative and informing theatrical experience.
Although based on a local figure this play has highlighted yet another relatively unknown woman who contributed not only her travel experiences but also supported organisations such as the St John’s Ambulance and the Royal Photographic Society on a national scale. This play deserves to be told to a wider audience, particularly when we are celebrating the centenary of the Suffragette movement. By Ray Gerlach.
Photograph by Peter Mould