Samantha Alton is the lead performer with Liverpool-based theatre group ArtsGroupie who are presenting their production Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse, at the King’s Head in Islington March 10-13.
This one-woman play sold out in Liverpool during its run and also at Shakespeare North, when it played there in summer 2022.
Kitty: Queen of the Washhouse celebrates the life and achievements of Kitty Wilkinson, an Irish immigrant whose work in the slums of Liverpool during the cholera epidemic of the mid-1800 earned her the title “Saint of the Slums”. Her pioneering approach to public hygiene helped stem the city’s 1832 epidemic.
Wilkinson was born Catherine Seaward in Co. Derry, and at the age of nine came to Liverpool with her parents who were looking for work.
But their ship ran aground in the Mersey and her father and younger sister drowned.
Aged 12, Kitty — as she was then known — went to work at a cotton mill in Caton, Lancashire.
She finally left the mill and returned to Liverpool, where she went into domestic service. Shortly thereafter she married a sailor, Emanuel Demontee. They had two children, but Emanuel drowned at sea a short time later. She returned to domestic service. But shortly thereafter, upon being gifted with a mangle, she set herself up as a laundress. Her hygiene techniques of boiling water and clothes ‘ using chlorine and lime — did much to halt the spread of cholera.
This is only part of her story – the Derry woman was also an entrepreneur, a pioneer and a community activist. Incorporating music and song as well as creative visual effects, the audience is immersed in Kitty’s life story, invited to explore the political and social climate of the period, and to celebrate a truly inspiring female hero.
The play was written by John Maguire and directed by Margaret O’Connell.
Incorporating music and song as well as creative visual effects, the audience is immersed in Kitty’s life story, invited to explore the political and social climate of the period, and to celebrate a truly inspiring female hero. The play also highlights the importance of community and community activism in a time when more people are becoming socially isolated.
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