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Louth's chilling history brought to life

Black Saturday

Louth Playgoers' Young Producers

Louth Riverhead Theatre

30-31 July 2021

Black Saturday is a new play written by two former journalists, John and Victoria Taylor, who submitted the script to John Hewer, of the Young Producers, and it has finally found its way to the stage after many cast changes, complications and cancellations over the last year.

The Louth flood of 1920 was the result of severe flash flooding in the Lincolnshire market town of Louth which occurred 29 May 1920, resulting in 23 fatalities in 20 minutes. The River Lud burst its banks and caused untold damage to the town in one of the UKs most damaging floods of the twentieth century.

Here, John and Victoria Taylor give us their fictionalised version of events, integrating a high level of research into the writing of the play and seeking to inform and educate contemporary audiences. The end result is a short play with some highly emotional moments and scenes of levity to balance the horror. Its narrator is Charles Brown, admirably played by Joel Howard, a young jack the lad who really did cling to a lamp post for the duration of the flood and spends the entirety of the play sat wrapped around a lamp post in this production. We even catch a glimpse of the real Charles Brown clinging to his perch, in one of many archival photographs used during the multimedia presentation accompanying the performance. Joel Howard provides a caring, charming and slightly quirky narrator, with ease.

Many of the cast are called upon to play multiple roles within the production and slip deftly between their various characters, demonstrating the scope of society in Louth in 1920. We meet Jim Steele, an ambitious young reporter played by Philip Marshall Junior who also plays the doctor called upon to perform house visits during the flood itself. Marshall also directs the piece and demonstrates empathy and passion for this project in his portrayal of each character. Fleet Street is represented by Magnus Moorhouse, Derek and Amanda Hodges, along with the slightly seedy Digby Featherstone of the Daily Mail played by Ray Baker. Baker manages to imbue some humanity in his portrayal. We see some nice character development as his vainglorious self-importance and pomposity are pierced when challenged by Jim Steele, who had initially been impressed by his braggadocio.

We meet modern day minister the Reverend Charles Lenton, sympathetically played by James Laverack, who also plays his 1920's counterpart Reverend Allchurch. Julia Burnett appears as his wife and provides an emotional reading of their son's letter describing the flood and the suffering. The roles of Maggie Winton and the nurse are played by the engaging Jasmine Ashworth. The scene in which the doctor and the nurse attend the bedside of Mrs Annie Kirman, played by Cheryl Vallely, provides one of the play's most spectacular moments as her husband (played by Andy Vallely) and Dr Higgins leap from the window into the flood waters to seek further aid. Special mention should go to Ben Allen who plays an animated newsboy and the vulnerable and distraught George Berry in a touching and emotional scene shared with Jerry Smith's Captain Gee.

Julia Burnett also returns for a scene-stealing cameo as a very regal Queen Alexandra.

Andy Vallely and Jerry Smith give us two rival politicians fighting for votes in the election as Christopher Hatton Turner and Thomas Wintringham respectively giving rousing speeches on the stump. And finally, providing some heart and rational thinking throughout the story is Rebekah Hardy's Lily Burn in a wonderfully warm performance. Derek Hodges provides a bluff Mr Rawlings who had lost his business in the flood in stark contrast to his hard-nosed reporter, Magnus Moorhouse also brings us his heroic Captain Loseby rescuing residents trapped by flood waters and Amanda Hodges's pregnant Mrs Berry is also a wonderful contrast to her Daily Sketch reporter.

This well-researched play illuminates a period in Louth's history that is in danger of being forgotten and should provide a stark reminder of the sheer power of nature over mankind. It is well worth a visit to the theatre and despite the trials and tribulations experienced in bringing the show to the stage, the Louth Playgoers should be commended for bringing this chapter in the town's history back to life on today's stage.

Andy Evans

29 July 2021

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