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A review of the Harlow performance, 18 October, 2023

by Miriam Scharf


Hopefully the peasants revolt of 1381 is still taught in schools. The march on London of tens of thousands, village after village, rising up against serfdom and punitive taxation is a hugely inspiring tale. So probably not. And Katherine Brewed tells the stories of four characters caught up in these tumultuous events: an ex-soldier; a village girl; a freed prisoner; and Katherine, a brewer. It depicts brilliantly the cruelty of the ruling class, their contempt for the peasants, and their craven fear and subterfuge as they face, and then betray them.

The actors are completely committed, their energy and good humour is infectious, fully engaging with the the audience, carrying us through the highs and lows. The peasant characters’ different attitudes and their thoughts up to, and including most movingly their defeat, are so relevant you find yourself thinking of conversations you have about our fightbacks today. And yet the play ends with the astonishing fact that serfdom was abolished in England soon after the revolt, several hundred years before other European countries!


It was a joyful event. A story well worth telling told with imagination, zest and humour. John Cresswell’s ingenuity shows how much can be done on a very tight budget. An antidote to the elitism so often associated with the theatre. Visit the project website and ensure when it tours again it will come to you

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