The cast of The Transports – photos © The Eye Snapper

The folk ballad opera ‘The Transports’ is widely considered to be the finest work of its creator the late Peter Bellamy. The first ever production in Norwich Castle took place on 23rd February 1978 and featured a stellar cast of Britain’s best folk singers, including Mike and Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, June Tabor and on the recorded version Dave Swarbrick.
It tells the tale of two of the first convicts to be sentenced to transportation, Henry Cabell (also spelled Kabel) and Susannah Holmes who after imprisonment fall in love and produce a son. They are initially refused permission to take their new son with them, but a sympathetic guard appeals to the Home Secretary Lord Sydney on their behalf and they are allowed to take their son and get married. In Australia they thrived, becoming respected and successful and beginning a dynasty of the Kabel or Keble family still recognisable today.
Bellamy’s music was fully deserving of the fine singers who he recruited to perform with him, and the Crude Apache crew do a great job of bringing these songs to us now, with clarity and confident delivery in the face of a blustery evening in the park with some of the customary distractions of open air free theatre, dogs, phones and teenagers showing off. The strength of this performance means that the audience was completely unperturbed by the ‘noises off’ and captivated by the thirteen singing actors and the ten musicians led and directed by Tim Lane.
This show is a remake of a previous Crude Apache triumph when the show was presented in Dragon Hall four years ago. You can even find a Youtube recording of one show here:
While there is considerable cast overlap with the original this production features some new performers in a fresh new production directed by Panda Monium. Henry Kabel is mournfully sung by Leo Oakley, while Gillian Dean has taken time out from a developing TV career to bring us a heartrending Susannah Holmes. Leighton Williams puts a passion into his acting and has a voice that could be heard three streets away, whatever the wind direction! Rita Gallard is very impressive as Kabel’s desolated mother, giving a fine performance of the songs first sung by the unique June Tabor. Although I have highlighted one or two singers the Crude Apache approach is collective and co-operative, with all the cast on the ‘stage’ (bit of grass) throughout, and all sharing roles and music. They were joined tonight by some promising young future actors, graded by size from little to tiny!
I cannot remember ever failing to enjoy a Crude Apache show, and there is no risk of disappointment with The Transports, a joyful uplifting production with sublimely beautiful music well performed. At just over an hour long the show is just right for the summer evenings in August, although there are a couple of afternoon Sunday shows as the ensemble complete their tour of Norfolk venues and one just over the border in That Suffolk. A bit of transportation might be handy there.
It is a tribute to the genius of Peter Bellamy’s original creation that this is a true opera – the story is entirely carried by the songs, although the robust physical style of Crude Apache helps to make the details very clear.
The musicians deserve special mention, with a nicely orchestrated balance of instruments that works well in the open air. Including a clarinet, played by Jo Worley, and a couple of violins/viola played by Carly Stevens and David Reeves gives an almost Klezmer-like sound to some numbers, enhancing the plaintive message about the disruption to families of being forced to move to the ends of the earth.
It is no surprise that this production has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award at this years Norfolk Arts Awards. After enjoying this delightful show you will probably want to cast your vote, details are on the Crude Apache website (link below). A show to brighten up a summer evening, while reminding us all of both the cruelty and humanity in evidence at the time of transportation. 
© Julian Swainson 2017

The Transports orchestra led by Tim Lane (on guitar here)



Thurs 3rd August – Heigham Park – 7-30pm

Sat 5th August – Whiffler Theatre, Castle Gardens – 7-30pm

Sunday 6th August – Whiffler Theatre, Castle Gardens – 2.30pm

Thurs 10th August – Visitor Centre, Whittlingham Country Park – 7-30pm

Fri 11th August –  Becketswell, Wymondham – 7-30pm

Saturday 12th August – The Locks Inn, Geldeston  – 7-30pm

Sunday 13th August – Kett’s Heights – 2.30pm


All performances are free – bring something to sit on and a picnic

Further information at: