Female Transport – 16 October 2019, Sheffield University Drama Studio. Review by the brand new member of our reviewing team Daniel O’ Key.

“Female Transport, written by Stephen Gooch, could easily be retitled as “Orange Is The New Black: At Sea”. It was a raw and surprisingly timely drama, accounting the past and present tribulations of six female prisoners on a ship bound for Australia. Performed at the ever-impressive University Of Sheffield Drama Studio by SUTCo (Sheffield University Student Theatre Company), it was hard not to have high expectations. Fortunately, the show was mostly plain sailing.

Even before the show was opened by a foreboding rendition of Botany Bay, it was clear the characters were set for a less-than-fabulous time. The staging was nothing but wood, rope and only two bare bed frames for the six women. The venue had an uncomfortably high heat, that was doubtlessly by design. Immediately I was aware of the claustrophobia and discomfort of the characters, and credit should be given to director Katie Kelson and the crew for setting the tone immediately.

As I mentioned before, the plot was sadly somewhat reminiscent of today, which bittersweetly made it engage. We followed these prisoners over their sad realisation of how much their class and gender stacked the cards against them. We are also reminded of the danger of callousness when it comes to mental health, sexual assault and poor living conditions. The way these subjects were performed was thought provoking, rather than on the nose. Luckily, the show is not all doom and gloom, there is banter between the prisoners that is both entertaining and develops their characters without being overly expository.

A play this minimal lives or dies depending on the actors, thankfully it stayed afloat due to pitch perfect performances by the six leads. A standout was Ellen Trevaskiss as Charlotte, who captured the damaged and angry nature of her character with every nuance. She deserves praise for playing her characters’ ordeal with sexual harassment and assault with the sensitivity it deserves. Credit must also go to Jack Goodison as Sergeant, who plays a great antagonist. His role could’ve led him to chew the scenery to the ceiling, but he is menacing and thankfully more Tom Hardy than Jared Leto.

With regards to the rest of the staging, the costuming felt mostly realistic across the board. The six prisoners felt authentic to the setting: they wore little to no makeup, dressed in black and white and had their hair pulled back. Perhaps there could’ve been more makeup and hair work done in the second act, to make their appearances more unclean and dishevelled to make the passage of time clearer. The male characters wore fashionable and convincing naval jackets, however I got distracted wondering if I’d seen their chinos in River island just a few hours earlier, fortunately their acting quickly offset this quibble.

Female Transport succeeded in portraying a grim environment and excelled in making us understand the strife of the women within it. Most importantly it resonated to today, thanks to committed performances and deft staging. It’s a short but sweet play I’d recommend dropping anchor to see.”

Female Transport will be performed at Sheffield University Drama Studio until Saturday 19 October. To book visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/sheffield-university-theatre-company/female-transport

The award winning SUTCo perform four shows a semester. For further information visit www.sutco.org/.

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