Triumphant revival of The Transports at Sidmouth

Southbank Centre director produces powerful revival of Peter Bellamy’s ballard opera The Transports

The Transports: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy: Thursday, August 4

ON Thursday night the Ham Marquee audience witnessed a triumphant revival of Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, first performed in Norwich in 1978.

Directed by Jude Kelly, artistic director of London’s Southbank Centre, with a new score arranged by Paul Sartin of Bellowhead, Jim Moray and Sam Sweeney, the ballad opera sounded as fresh as it must have done in 1978, writes Nicola King.

Bellamy used traditional folk melodies, or close versions of them, with his own lyrics, to tell the story of two young convicts, Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes, who meet in Norwich Gaol in 1787 and fall in love.

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In the first half, Jude Kelly gave us the social history of 18th century poverty, when many people had no alternative but to steal in order to survive.

Hanging, and later transportation to America, and then Australia, was the sentence for the most trivial offence.

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The cast sang ballads and songs which reflected that history, including The Rufford Park Poachers and Botany Bay (a powerful rendition by Gavin Davenport).

The cast of the opera itself included Martin Carthy as the Street Singer - the part played by Bellamy in the first production; Carthy himself having played The Humane Turnkey in 1978 - Eliza Carthy, and sister and brother Jackie Oates and Jim Moray as the lovers, echoing the original casting of Norma and Mike Waterson in those roles.

All of the singing was so powerful that it seems wrong to single any out, but for me the highlights were Eliza’s singing of The Leaves in the Woodland, the mother’s lament for her transported family, the lovers’ duet Sweet Loving Friendship, and The Plymouth Mail, sung by Jez Lowe with The Young ‘Uns.

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