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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




OutFox Productions presents

The Gut Girls


The Gut Girls L-R Beth Eyre, Katherine Rodden, Hannah Wood, Billie Fulford-Brown and Lucy Caplin


by Sarah Daniels

Director - Amy Gunn

Producers – Kirsty Fox and John Fricker

Set and Costume Design – Rachael Ryan

Sound Designer – Mark Webber

Lighting Designer – Amy Mae


Brockley Jack Studio Theatre


11 Mar- 29 Mar 2014

Victorian South London houses a booming trade at Deptford’s Foreign Cattle Market. Girls and young women earn a considerable weekly sum gutting carcasses and preparing cuts for the butchers of London. Ankle deep in blood and guts they laugh their way through their working days in poorly maintained sheds with little hope of a proper break or a chance of fresh air. When night falls and their daily slog ends, the group which Sarah Daniels’ The Gut Girls centres around don their glad rags and hit the pubs and dance-halls of the East End in a whirlwind of fearlessness and frolics with an appetite for mischief. Inverting typical notions of vulnerability, barman Len (Luke Stevenson) sheds some light on their effect - “Chaps don’t feel safe” when they’re on the town. Beer swilling, mouthy and financially independent, they blaze a trail all of their own.

Annie (Hannah Wood) is a cautious, squeamish newcomer to the sheds in the first scene. Residing in the local home for fallen women where her child by the son of her former employer died at birth, her situation draws out the fact that the gut girls are seen by the rest of their peers as one step above prostitutes. The other girls are very keen to keep Annie’s secret safe and find her somewhere new to live so that she can fully enjoy the freedom available to a woman drawing her own wage. As a picture of friendship and solidarity the play stands tall, and though written in 1988 and set in Victorian times, its resonances are deep in this regard.

Beth Eyre puts in impressive turns in two very distinct parts. As Ellen she is determined on her quest to be heard on workers’ rights and an unrelenting voice on the unacceptable conditions they are expected to toil in. As nervous and downtrodden Priscilla, a delicate and unassuming wife to a man ashamed of her ‘melancholy’, she is equally convincing. Lucy Caplin and Billie Fulford-Brown also take on multiple parts with consistent ability and they undoubtedly form the bold and brazen heart of the gut girls’ posse when they’re on the rampage as Maggie and Polly.

Local wealthy widower and general do-gooder Lady Helena (Gemma Paget) decides she cannot stand the fact that these women spend their days sorting animal’s innards in terrible conditions for the butchers of London. She settles on bestowing on the girls the gift of decent deportment and good manners believing it is the key to their progression and ultimate contentment. What Lady Helena never sees is the fact that though their working conditions are poor, they are in a singularly unique position of being women with well-paid jobs in Victorian London. Though their days are arduous, their nights are spirited, their friendships solid and their independence priceless.

Lady Helena is staid and religious and seems intent of helping the gut girls better themselves. The fact that she will only encourage them to do that within the confines of their class and proffers life as a servant girl as the highlight of good ambition starts to bore quite quickly compared with the riotous evenings witnessed in the first half of the play. The vigour and pace of the first half thus gives way to a much more plodding second. Her interactions with the girls, including her visit to the sheds and immersion in their claustrophobic conditions surrounded by excellent meat-props is far more gripping than her musings from the comfort of her home.

Costumes are impressively compiled with the gut girl’s dresses, coats and accessories being of particular note, well chosen and of the time. Their gaudy straw hats with flowers on become almost symbolic of their wilful abandon and when they are first persuaded to attend one of Lady Helena’s corrective lessons, the sight of their coats all folded on stage with hats atop, while they get to grips with making undergarments, is a an ominous one. This is a well rendered picture of life for women in Victorian South London aptly revived in one of the most attractive and innovative theatres south of the river.



Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Box office: or 0844 8700 887
Tickets: £14, £11 conc.
Suitable for 14+




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