Praise for Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways

A fantastic afternoon of poetry and theatre

Congratulations and well done …. An amazing poetic look into boating women and their contributions to the war effort.

You wove a rich tapestry of real stories and experiences, in devilish detail, of what working life on the cut was really like. Young women giving up the easy life for grit in the hair, a choking load of cement, a fourteen hour day and a bucket in the corner. And for it they were called “Idle Women”

Isobel’s War by  (Kate Saffin) is an incredible piece of storytelling, a tiny tale, detailed & thrilling – was captivated throughout!


Now is the Winter (2010/11)
Now is the Winter
Alarum Theatre
The Vault until Monday August 30, 2010

Through clever and sensitive cut and paste editing, Kate Saffin converts Shakespeare’s Richard III into the monologue of an imagined house servant, played with warm, realistic humour by Helen McGregor. Starting with the title soliloquy, spoken without irony by the loyal York supporter, and accompanied by the depiction of various household chores or back-fence gossiping, the speaker reports on overheard conversations or bits of news passed on from others, following Richard all the way to Bosworth, where she witnesses the defeat and turns Richmond’s victory speech into the common woman’s earnest prayer for peace.

A few episodes, including the murder of Clarence and everything involving Queen Margaret, are omitted entirely, while the rest are described or re-enacted for us with the excitement of one with inside information. It is striking how easily the substitution of ‘he’ for ‘I’ or the very rare bit of non-Shakespearean paraphrase translates so smoothly into reportage, allowing the actress to create and sustain a believable, sympathetic character as she responds naturally to each turn of the plot.

It is a small piece, but much more than just a condensed plot summary, as the woman invented by Saffin and brought to life by McGregor is thoroughly Shakespearean in spirit and might well be a cousin to Mistress Quickly or Juliet’s Nurse.

Review by Gerald Berkowitz
Published online at 10:26 on Tuesday 17 August 2010

Fringe Review

Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Now is the Winter
Genre: Classical and Shakespeare
Venue: The Vault

Low Down

Written and directed by Kate Saffin, Now is the Winter. A below stairs maid gives us a unique perspective on the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in a skilled reworking of Richard III from a woman’s perspective.


Helen McGregor performs with precise diction and we are addressed directly. Full costume, warm lighting and a parlour greets us as the piece opens. This is the simple setting, the spring board for a loyal servant to bring us new and fresh experience of Richard, his rise to power and the unfolding tale of his life, and Shakespeare himself.

We have a kitchen-eye view of the key characters and also the world they inhabit. Our commentator has a keen ear for conversation and we are told stories by this oft-unnoticed observer. We hear of intrigue, of plots, of family politics, even of witchcraft! And yet there are simpler, telling observations, shared with us from an insightful witness. It is a clever and effective device in a theatre piece.

Many an actor on the Fringe could learn a thing or two from McGregor who holds the material confidently and delivers it with natural assurance. Callow often fires his Shakespeare like canonballs, McGregor has found just the right level for Saffin’s evocative, often sharp and witty script. There’s intense emotion, there’s humour, there’s eloquence.

Sound effects occasionally adorn the piece. They are as sharp and clear as the performers’ vocal delivery. It’s refreshing to see such care taken.

Many of the lines of Shakespeare, intended for the mouths of men, delivered through the mouth of a woman, take on different slants and import. They are often deepened. New meaning, new flavours, new levels can be found in Kate Saffin’s rendering and reworking. Her own crafting as a writer weaves seamlessly into the original text.

Perhaps the production is a bit too static at times and a little more movement would enhance the wonderful modulation in the text delivery.

This is RSC-level work, hidden in the depths of the Vault, and it deserves to be seen by anyone with a love of Shakespeare, or simply a love of beautiful language and a good story, delivered with consumate ease and skill. This is Shakespeare, but is also Saffin, and both are highly recommended by this reviewer.

Reviewed by PL 15th August 2010

NITW audience reviews 2010


Truly outstanding one-woman performance , the small and intimate venue providing the perfect setting. Story was told in a clear and passionate manner which captivated from beginning to end. The acting and sound effects conveyed me to both the time and place, i found myself turning my head to watch the “passing procession”. Didnt feel like 50 mins, could have happily sat a further 2 hours listening to this accomplished storytelling. A must for lovers of Shakespeare and gossip!


The apples became symbols of division, injustice and love. Now is the Winter unfolds, extends and draws back into the heart of Bess, who holds and loves her Lord, Richard. As she handles the ordinary stuff of turnips, herbs and laundry, she eavesdrops on royal events of duplicity and intrigue. From her hearth base of the home, she tells of much, even the apple gifts to the Princes, returned to the basket when refused at the door of the Tower before her Richard became England’s Richard III.

This is a stunning play, the sparse stage holding deeply complex movements and objects, all so true in historical context that we were brought into the time. This reviewer had neither read Shakespear’s Richard III, nor had learnt English history well. But the writing and the acting filled in the blanks in fabulously conversational tone, whilst never patronising and exquisitely using the language of the time.

Working it’s way like the aromatic steam of a scene into the core of the work is a brave and loving feminism. As Bess plonks down the drinking cups, naming the politicos to be served (Buckingham, Dorset…), she is clearly the one who holds the process. She feeds the illness, mends the heads, launders the wraps, holds the queen. She is the real power, supporting the bodies of nobles and seeing the good in the gossip she hears.

This is a fine play, wonderfully written and powerfully performed. It deserves more audience then the venue can hold!!! Do fill it.


Excellent acting …well worth going to see.

One Comment

  1. Mike Gray says:

    Thouroughly enjoyed ‘now is the winter’ in Edinburgh (at the Assembly Hall) a few days ago. The transcription to a third party ‘story’ went very well (what an interesting idea!), and the selection from the original play, and the ‘stitching together’ worked very effectively. I learned RIII by heart as a teenager, to help with a chronic stammer, and I would have been very disappointed had this modified and abridged version sold the original short: It did not! A very effective piece in its own right.

    Mike Gray, Dumfries

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