Monday 18 March 2019

REVIEW: Kitty, Queen Of The Washhouse - St. George's Hall, Liverpool.

On 20th September 2012 Kitty Wilkinson became the first woman to be commemorated with a statue in Liverpool’s Grade I-listed landmark St George’s Hall. The £100,000 marble statue stands beside 12 Victorian and Edwardian city forefathers including William Roscoe, George Stephenson and William Gladstone. A point that is made with humour by Samantha Alton playing Kitty in an all-white set and costume, complete with white face and body make-up, as she brings her mimed statue to life and wakes Kitty up for a fast and furious account of her life and a call for more women to be given their place in history and join her statue in the Great Hall. The point was made even more poignant as the performance took place in the magnificent gold leafed and crystal chandeliered St George’s Hall Concert Room, once described by Charles Dickens as ‘The most perfect room in the world’. 

Writer John Maguire has taken what could indeed be a miserable Dickensian story and turned Kitty’s tale into a triumph of resilience and achievement in this one woman show. Accredited in 1832 with opening her home to neighbours as a wash-house to fight the cholera epidemic, Kitty understood cleanliness was a weapon against disease. Her work was recognised in 1842 when she was made superintendent of the first public wash-house in the country. Alton’s performance and story-telling was outstanding as she acted out Kitty’s journey with attitude, bringing real personality and character throughout each stage of her life. She captivated her audience from the first moment she brought her immobile statue to life with a cheeky wink. The story traces her history from the harrowing stormy sea crossing to Liverpool aged nine where Kitty saw both her father and baby sister drown, leaving her mother permanently deranged, ‘Her soul drowned with that baby’. McGuire’s writing, beautiful and lyrical in parts, showed meticulous research for a much-loved character. Alton picked up the story and took the audience on an emotion-filled journey through some of the hardest times a city and one (twice widowed) woman could face. 

Kitty is a veritable one-woman social services department becoming a teacher and public health pioneer while fostering over forty children and caring for the elderly, sick, disabled and homeless in her own home. Strangely uplifting, putting Brexit and austerity into sharp perspective, the piece is interlaced with traditional background songs and the fifty-minute performance flew by concluding with a spontaneous standing ovation from the packed house. Kitty would have been touched, I’m sure, while wondering what all the fuss was about. A great tribute to a wonderful woman.

Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock
on - 16/3/19

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