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Idle Women


Alarum Theatre’s Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways

at Limehouse Basin, London

“The whole production is convivial and informal, as though it is brought to you by a friend”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Idle Women - the so-called volunteers who ‘manned’ the canals during World War 2 while the men were away fighting. An army of ladies who helped to keep industry moving from the industrial north to the bombed south: coal, munitions, food, steel. Everything that needed moving, they moved.

Alarum Theatre consists of Heather Wastie and Kate Saffin, embarking on their own voyage around the canals, touring this quaint show up and down the country over the next few months with a narrow boat. They met in February 2016, via Twitter, and linked up to create a neat show that has a homely, familiar feel.

[Kate Saffin and Heather Wastie]

It is a relaxed setting in the bar of the Canal Association’s headquarters in the renovated and sought-after Limehouse Basin, the Thames just a few yards away, lapping at the lock.

The first 45-minutes is a monologue, performed by Kate. Isobel’s War is full of flashbacks and characters ranging from Isobel’s snooty mother to the Carters, a working family on the canals. It is engaging and follows Isobel as she decides to volunteer for the Inland Waterways rather than nursing or teaching. Her journey is eye-opening, very funny and touching in equal quantities. Directed by Milla Jackson, the piece flows - a little faltering at times and lacking some genuine peril in the performance which is definitely there in the script - but adorable all the same.

[Heather and Kate]

After the interval, Heather takes over, performing Idle Women and Judies - a collection of stories, poems and songs. This 40-minutes whizzes by. She’s more comfortable with the material and guides us through her set with a twinkle in the eye - she knows what’s coming! Ending with a couple of songs, akin to sea shanties, Heather plays the accordion. Her cherubic grin encourages the audience to join in with the chorus of the final song - which we do, reluctantly at first, but it is a good, solid ending to a satisfying evening’s performance.

The whole production is convivial and informal, as though it is brought to you by a friend. Add onto that the educational aspect - there is so much to learn about this time in our history and these unsung women’s war effort. Heather said, introducing one of her poems, ‘What is the truth anyway?’ History is a misty subject and one never really knows fact from fiction - but if stories are told like this, whether historically accurate or not, what better way can there be to learn and think about something new than in the warm, hard-working hands of Kate Saffin and Heather Wastie?

[Genuine Idle Women]

Tour details: - or call 07465 238063

Performances Length: 2 hours (this includes an interval)

Facebook: /alarumtheatre

Twitter: @alarum_theatre #TheIdleWomen

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