Owlers in Appledore

Puppets used in the Owlers production, by Sabotage theatre company

On Saturday evening, July 11, in the ancient church of St Peter and St Paul, Appledore, it was a pleasure to attend the performance of Owlers by Zoe Hinks and Sabotage Theatre Company, supported by the Arts Council, England.

An “Owler” – given various definitions – was applied to a person or vessel engaged in smuggling sheep and wool from England to France from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, or a nocturnal bird of prey, such as the owl. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and the ending of the coastal blockade, more ships and men were released to find new areas of employment. Which meant Coastguards and the ever looming presence of the Revenue Men. Owling became a dangerous and less lucrative occupation.

In weaving together history and folklore, not only is Zoe’s script entertaining, innovative and informative, but a small and very talented group of actors brought to life the average Owler on the Romney Marsh, 1810 -1826. More often than not, an Owler was an ordinary farmworker earning 6-8d (pence) a day while smuggling paid 3s (shillings) a night, three times more than farm work.

Without giving too much away, as this is a must see performance, the fascinating story of Kit, catalyst in this very poignant Marsh drama, together with Crawfurd Quinn, chief Owler of the Aldington gang of smugglers and his daughter, Marie, unfolds with the minimum of props, while the scenes are given an added dimension by the amazing puppets which everyone was allowed to handle and examine after the show.

The beach, the offshore boat, the lighthouse and beach-house tavern complete with half-ankers or tubs equalling four gallons of smuggled spirits; less is more. In the lighthouse dwell two mad old sisters with their potions and spells. Crawfurd has a pain “so bad” he visits the sisters to remedy his pain, for if he cannot work the villagers too will go without the spoils afforded by the Free Trade. Enter Kindred, a confused and naive young priest in a new Parish who becomes involved in a world he is unfamiliar with and life for the Marsh Owlers takes a dramatic turn.

Congratulations to Sabotage Theatre Company and to their actors of unfaltering deliverance in dialogue and narrative and to everyone behind the scenes for a lovely, lively performance.

  • Jonboy, Carl Boardman.
  • Kit, Harriet Layne.
  • Kindred, Tea Poldervaart.
  • Marie Quinn/Crawfurd Quinn, Penny Lisle.
  • Horse handlers, Steve Toms and Lisa Dear.
  • Production Assistants, Lily Findley, Leo Askhan Dear, Zinta Gerzans.
  • Designer, Berthe Fortin.
  • Puppet Maker, Hazel Imbert.

And thanks to Zoe Hinks, Director and Playwright, for a production not to be missed.

Sabotage Theatre Company’s next performances are:

  • August 7, 7.30pm: Church of St Mary, Lydden CT15 7JP
  • August 8, 7.30pm: St Laurence Church, Hougham, CT15 7AH


Photo: Sandra Lanigan