The Bricks of Burston
Norfolk is sometimes characterised as a backwater, but a century ago the village of Burston made its mark as the scene of the longest-ever strike in British history.
Following the sacking of Annie and Tom Higdon from the local village school, the husband and wife teaching staff set up a "strike school" which was attended by many of their former pupils but against the wishes of those in authority.
The Stuff of Dreams Theatre Company has taken this story and using a small cast – Tom Grace as Tom Higdon, Georgia Robson as Annie Higdon and Alex Helm as the antagonistic Rev. Eland – delivers a very powerful performance in the most compact of performance spaces. "The Bricks of Burston" makes effective use of a small stage through a variety of appropriate techniques.
It quickly becomes apparent to the audience that the characters, rather than inhabiting a particular time or place are currently in some kind of purgatorial bubble, and as they try to recollect past memories, these changes in time are cleverly indicated by the turning of an hourglass on a school desk.
All the cast give impassioned but well measured and projected performances. Grace's fury at the lack of opportunities given to labourers' children comes over as authentically felt; Robson gives a heart-felt performance and her monologues at the tribunal concerning the Barnardo's children are believable. Helm's Eland has the right amount of menace and arrogance and, in the latter part of the play, his character is given the opportunity to develop.
The script is tightly written and dripping with historical detail. At the time, this strike school became a central issue for trade unionists and this is reflected in the dialogue between Annie and Tom Higdon. Tom is amazed when he receives a donation from a "real-life Russian communist" and Annie is touched when she sees Emily Pankhurst attend a rally in support of the school.
Subtle mention of World War I in the dialogue also reverberates for a modern-day audiences, as we feel able to relate this particular event to the wider commemorative events that are happening now on the conflict's centenary..
While this maybe a very sparse production without a sumptuous set, costume or stage, its simplicity may be its strength. Through a clear, powerful dialogue we are reminded of one of history's forgotten heroes and how momentous events in history can – and do – happen locally.
The Bricks of Burston tours East Anglia until 15 May.