After a successful run in Chichester’s Guildhall, Chichester Community Theatre take their gruesome tale of smuggling, murder and execution to the Weald & Downland Living Museum, Singleton this weekend (Saturday, October 6 at 3pm and 7pm and Sunday, October 7, 3pm; tickets £12 from the museum).
The Hawkhurst Gang comes from Chichester playwright Greg Mosse.
“Chichester is the landscape of my past – because I went to school here, because I met my wife Kate Mosse here,” Greg said. “I’ve written two plays set in the area, and with the commemoration of 100 years of Priory Park, I knew I had to write something new that would sit at the heart of all that history. After all, the land has been relatively little disturbed since the 13th-century when there was a Franciscan friary on the site. I did wonder at first if there might be something in the trial for sedition of William Blake. Roger Redfarn, the director of Chichester Community Theatre, is keen that we should look into that story again for a later date.
“But, quite quickly, I realised that a gang of bloodthirsty smugglers was much more promising.
“It’s a gift, really. The 1749 trial of the Hawkhurst smugglers actually took place in the Guildhall in Priory Park.
“Some of the lines I have given to our superb cast are the actual words spoken 269 years ago.
“I hope I’ve done justice to their memory – ‘and God have mercy on their rotten souls!’
“We are very lucky to have an incredible primary source for our play, The Hawkhurst Gang. Published within a few months of the trial, an anonymous ‘gentleman of Chichester’ gives us an exhaustive and fascinating account of the crimes themselves and how those crimes were uncovered. Nobody knows who he was. I suspect he may have been the publisher or printer who realised that an up-to-the-minute book about kidnap, murder and retribution would be a hit.
“Richard Plowman has done an incredible job pulling together the centenary. My brother, Benjamin Graham, has produced a magnificent photographic portfolio, showing Priory Park in all its seasons and moods. Alongside this high art, I got the job of painting the scenery for the play! Luckily, it didn’t require any great technique!”