Play reading: Female Transport

This week’s play reading was Female Transport by Steve Gooch. The play focuses on six-month journey taken by a female convict transport ship from England to Australia during the 1780s. As the play progresses, we see relationships build – and break down – between the inmates, as well as between the inmates and their jailers.

Inevitably, given the play’s subject matter and period setting, comparisons were made between Female Transport and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. While the latter piece uses the convict’s play to drive plot, it was felt that Female Transport had a lack of plot, but that this was not necessarily to its detriment.

Instead the play focuses on people and the relationships that are built during their time at sea. This puts a real focus on characterisation, on which opinion was split. All agreed that the group all had well-defined characters, but some felt that it was difficult to warm to the women.

As the play is written in dialect, it was a challenge to read at points – it was suggested that this may have contributed to a lack of sympathy to the women, and that it would be much better received at a second reading. Others believed that the sympathy would be found in the staging, while some simply welcomed the fact that there were a number of strong female characters in the play.

The staging was an aspect of the play that was discussed at length. The possibility of performing the play in the round was raised and, while not everyone agreed with it, it provoked some lively debate. Lighting was also mentioned; the women are confined to a cell below decks, so it would be likely that any staging of the play would involve quite dingy lights – would an audience be willing to sit through that?

It was generally accepted that this was not a play that would entertain, it would be an experience. Despite this, it was favourably received, with the majority feeling it would be a worthwhile experience for our audience – and something quite different to the usual output of the ALP. It was mooted as a possible candidate for our Abbots Langley Festival of the Arts play.

What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen Female Transport and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.

Future play readings:

  • A Chorus of Disapproval  by Alan Ayckbourn – Tuesday 27 August, 8pm
  • And a Nightingale Sang  by C.P. Taylor – Thursday 29 August, 8pm

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