Next month The Meeting by Charlotte Jones is staged for the first time in our Minerva Theatre. The play is about a daughter and her deaf mother who find sanctuary in a Quaker community on the South Downs during the Napoleonic wars.
‘The Meeting is very much my Sussex play,’ says the award-winning playwright. ‘I started writing it not long after I’d moved here. I was inspired by the chalky ground. I could almost picture the Quaker meeting on a beach, sitting among the stones.’ However, her main inspiration was the Quaker meetings she attended at Lewes’s Friends Meeting House for five years.
Through her journey, Charlotte found Quakers to be ‘incredibly passionate and extraordinary people’ and these qualities are found within the characters of her play.
If you are not familiar with Quakerism, here’s a bit of background information to help put the play into context.
- Quaker is the common name for the Religious Society of Friends, a group with Christian roots that arose in England in the mid-17th century. Their founder, the roaming preacher George Fox, visited Chichester in 1655.
- Believing in a personal relationship with God unmediated by clergy or church, his radical vision included the rejection of violence and warfare.
- In Britain today there are 17,000 Quakers; 9,000 other people regularly attend meetings without being Quakers or necessarily having a religious belief.
- Quaker meetings for worship can happen anywhere, though usually take place in meeting houses. People sit in a square or circle so everyone is of equal status.
- Meetings begin in silence, which is an essential part of worship. With no minister or order of service, anyone can speak as the spirit moves them – but only if they are convinced they have something worthwhile to share.
- Quakers have always treated men and women as equals, and were pioneers in the movement for female equality.
- Quakers are particularly concerned with human rights, social justice, peace, freedom of conscience, environmental issues and community life.
- Famous Quakers include actors Judi Dench and Paul Eddington, the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and chocolate manufacturers Joseph Rowntree, George Cadbury and Joseph Fry (who invented the chocolate bar!). The film star James Dean was brought up in a Quaker household and buried in a Quaker cemetery.
- An early Quaker settler in America called William Clayton established a township a few miles to the west of Philadelphia in the 1680s and called it, nostalgically, after his home city – Chichester.
MEET THE CAST
The company for The Meeting includes both hugely acclaimed actors and some of the UK’s most exciting young talent, all working at Chichester for the first time.
Lydia Leonard plays Rachel. Most recently seen in the award-winning play Oslo at the National Theatre and the West End, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Anne Boleyn in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies for the RSC on Broadway. Lydia’s many television series include Virginia Woolf in Life in Squares, Apple Tree Yard and Quacks; later this year you’ll see her in the major new BBC drama Gentleman Jack.
Gerald Kyd makes his Chichester debut as Adam. His many National Theatre credits include Three Winters, Children of the Sun and The Cherry Orchard; Hapgood at Hampstead Theatre and Trigorin in The Seagull for the RSC. Television includes Casualty and Humans.
Jean St Clair recently won Best Actress for the second time at Clin d’Oeil, the major French Deaf Film festival, for Signs of an Affair which she also wrote. Her theatre credits include Let Me Play The Lion Too (Told by an Idiot/Barbican) and Children of a Lesser God (West End/national tour).
Laurie Davidson has just finished filming a major movie, The Good Liar, playing Ian McKellen’s character as a young man. While still training at LAMDA he landed the title role in a TV series about the young Will Shakespeare, and went on to appear in Diana and I and the hit West End play The Ferryman.
The company is completed by Leona Allen, Olivia Darnley and Jim Findley, plus a number of community actors.
The Meeting opens on 13 July. Find out more about the play.