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Lewd Women and Female Felons

At under 40 minutes in length, this script-in-hand play for voices could be described as informative rather than entertaining, dealing as it does with the plight of ‘fallen women’ in Hyde, Winchester, but its content, highlighting the plight of many unfortunate women who were sentenced to 12 months hard labour at the County Bridewell for having illegitimate babies, was extremely interesting.

Led by local landowner and magistrate Sir Robert Allan (Kate McCarthy Price) and the Rev John Wellwood (Ros Liddiard), the arguments flowed back and forth between these two traditionalists and reformer Elizabeth Howard (Katherine Hodgkinson), the latter arguing that these women were foolish but not depraved and were human creatures, but often received twice the length of sentence than the men involved. Conditions, too, were pitiful, the detainees’ daily food allowance being ‘day-old bread’ and having only straw as their bed.

Clearly the result of detailed local research, the women themselves also had their part to play in the piece, and the chorus of Heidi DeQuincy, Amelia Marshall, MD Heather Bradford, Amanda Stebbing, Laura Wilcock and Trudi Licence not only had the chance to tell their individual tales, but also came together to sing songs and ballads of the period, often harmonising most effectively – ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’ was a particular highlight.

Author / Director Cecily O’Neill kept the look of the piece simple, with a bare stage and all the actors dressed in black, allowing the attention to be focussed on the individual stories of the women and the arguments for and against reform of the prison and justice system.

(Lewd Women and Female Felons is being performed as part of the Make It SO festival at NST City)