ALARUM Theatre's acclaimed retelling of the stories of the women at work on the wartime waterways will show at The Barlow Edgworth tomorrow night.

A double bill of theatre, poetry and music will whisk audiences back to the days of World War II, when a shortage of crews to keep the working boats going brought a new breed of boater to the canal ­— young women, later nicknamed Idle Woman. They took on the challenge of managing a pair of 72 narrow boats and 55 tons of cargo.

The double bill, featuring poems and songs by Heather Wastie, and a solo play by Kate Saffin, and has been created using first-hand accounts, diaries, archive material and audio interviews.

"The biggest group of trainees worked on the Grand Union from London to Birmingham, but there were also a small number who worked on the Leeds and Liverpool, so not too far from Bolton and Manchester," said Kate.

Heather added: "The women whose stories we tell don’t get the recognition they deserve.

"Most people have never heard of them. They didn’t have a proper name; they were just called ‘trainees’.

"The nickname ‘Idle Women’ came after the war, and my half of the show explains where that came from. By quoting from first-hand accounts of the trainees themselves, we bring to life what the women went through when they left behind their ordinary middle class lives in favour of long hours, hard labour and having to spend a lot of time in close proximity to other women in very cramped and challenging conditions."

Where possible, Heather and Kate tour by boat. This year they have completed a project following the routes worked by women during the war.

Heather is a poet, singer-songwriter and accordion player who has been involved with canals for most of her life, cruising with her family on ex-working boat Laurel and, as a child, getting involved in campaigns to save them from extinction. She was Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2015/16. As Writer in Residence at the Museum of Carpet in 2013, she turned people's memories into poems, monologues and songs for publication and performances.

In 2017 she was commissioned by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust to compose a children’s song cycle to celebrate the restoration of the Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster. She has recently completed a book of poems about the restoration of the Droitwich Canal, commissioned by Canal and River Trust for The Ring. She has also worked as poet and actor for National Trust property Croome Court.

Kate is a boater, writer, storyteller and actor. She has lived on a narrowboat and told stories of the waterways since 1999.

She trained as writer for stage and broadcast media at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

She adapted the waterway’s classic ‘Ramlin Rose; the Boatwoman’s story’ by the late Sheila Stewart and has performed at canal festivals, pub gardens and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Other plays have retold the apparently true story of a brothel on a boat and a late coming of age for a pensioner who finds herself on holiday on a boat. ‘Isobel’s War’ is based on interviews and existing accounts of the young women who worked on the boats during the second world war to tell Isobel’s story.

The performance will be followed by a question and answer.

Tickets and further details are available at

Ticket prices are £8 adult, £5 for age-16 and under.

The performance is suitable for 14+ but younger children are welcome.

Tickets available online and from The Barlow office on 01204 852216