The Unitarian Meeting House in Bury St Edmunds is one of those perfectly-proportioned brick-faced buildings which we associate with the Queen Anne period. As part of its tercentenary celebrations, Pat Whymark has devised a play with music and dance for older members of the Theatre Royal’s thriving youth theatre groups.
It centres around actual people who lived in the town in the early years of the 18th century, though the name of the building’s architect is unknown. The minister who brought the new place of worship into being was Samuel Bury; we meet both him and his wife Elizabeth, whose diary provides the nucleus of the story.
As well as senior members of her husband’s congregation, not all of whom in reality are as supportive as they profess, the main characters are the maids who work in the Bury household and some of their friends – most notably a group of siblings struggling against the bitter legacy of an abusive father. The catalyst for potential tragedy is the young architect.
The music, with string and percussion accompaniment, is mainly vocal. Whymark has provided some lilting choral pieces, with echoes of both folk and salon music of the drama’s period. Her cast copes admirably with this (there’s some very attractive close harmony singing) and with the dance sequences. These committed young actors – I suspect that some of them have sights already fixed on possible careers in the theatre – bring their characters fully to life.
Over the next two weekends, the play can be seen in Ipswich and Norwich, in both cases at the town's Unitarian Meeting House.