The Idle Women of Wartime Waterways at The Cruising Association

It’s not often you are invited to see a performance piece inside The Cruising Association building, which is less of a theatrical space and more of a place for river lovers to meet up with a pint and discuss all things boat related before, heading to the locks  It is however, a very fitting place to watch a show about “the idle women”, women who manned, so to speak, the waterways delivering essential goods in World War Two.

I was drawn to this performance because I actually knew nothing about the idle women beforehand, despite my love of all things ‘40’s and being a big supporter of pioneering women.  The term ‘Idle women’, we were told, was actually coined for them much later as the name for a book, and is likely comes from the advertisements asking for women to volunteer to man the idle boats on the waterways.  

This was hard, manual labour, and judging from the real diaries that made up some of tonight’s performances, it was was freeing and rewarding but very tough work.  They weren’t always treated with the respect they deserved, as so often is the case in those times, and had to give up much of their ordinary lives.  
The performance was split into two parts, the first, performed by Kate Saffin was a one woman performance based on true facts about the character of Isobel, who gave up the life her mother and husband chose for her for a life on the boats.  The performance is stripped back and casual, with no set or lighting and although it takes the performance a little time to warm up, it is delightfully charming.  The script can be a little unimaginative dialogue-wise but there’s humour and plenty to learn here.  

The second was music and poetry performed by Heather Wastie again using verbatim extracts from some of the women’s diaries or books.  Heather embodied the performances physically to really bring out the personalities in her poetry.  Again it’s a charming performance that wins the audience over.

The women are currently traveling around one of the routes the idle women took for their cargo deliveries, stopping at various points along the way to share their performances.  Check the Alarum Theatre website to see if that are stopping off near you soon.


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