The play that gave Worthing its town crier – author looks back on her hugely-successful production 10 years on

The author of the hugely successful Worthing Community Play, which highlighted a turbulent time in West Sussex history and introduced the town its now treasured town crier, has looked back on the performance 10 years on.

The play, The Just Cause – Victorian Romance and a Rollicking Good Riot, written and directed by Ann Feloy, involved 200 cast members and included not only a performance but a seafront promenade, fair along Ambrose Place and tea party at St Paul's.

It took two years to complete the project and people are still talking today about the performances over three weekends in June 2014 at Christ Church, in Worthing town centre.

Ann said: "Ten years on since the Worthing Community Play, which I wrote and directed, it's still an exciting time. It was a great team effort and a lot of people still remember the play and even have their costumes!

"It was performed over three consecutive weekends, involving 200 members of cast, adults and children. I had speaking parts for 50 characters, all based on real people in the 1880s and researched by those playing the part.

"It was performed by local people at Christ Church and then after each of the three performances, there was a follow on event, namely a promenade along the seafront, a fair along Ambrose Place and a tea party at St Paul's.

"It took me two years to complete the project, writing, directing, casting, producing the programme, etc., which was all funded by the then Heritage Lottery Fund. Exciting times!"

The play covered a turbulent time in Worthing’s history, when severe unrest and violence led to the reading of the Riot Act. The uproar was caused when the Salvation Army made its first foray into the town.

For much of the 19th century, Worthing’s image had been tarnished by the unruly behaviour of the town’s Bonfire Boys and the frequent riots and protests that erupted in the town. Too much beer, some people said, was the cause of this regular mayhem. In response, local temperance societies campaigned for a more sober town.

Working class women were at the forefront of the temperance movement, as they were the main victims of their husbands’ drinking, which, at best, reduced the meagre family income, and at worst, led to domestic violence. The arrival of the Salvation Army in Worthing in 1883 was welcomed by these women but deeply resented by their menfolk, many of whom formed themselves into a Skeleton Army to oppose the Salvationists’ anti-drink crusade.

Telling the story of this turbulent time, the play was staged in Christ Church, Grafton Road, on June 14, 21 and 28, 2014. It was funded by a £50,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant and took two years to come to fruition. Following the first performance, the cast and audience – many dressed for the Victorian theme – paraded along the seafront to Splash Point. Ms Feloy said at the time she wanted to give people the opportunity to show off their costumes after putting so much effort into their designs.

Having previously written for performances for the Edinburgh and Brighton fringe festivals, Ms Feloy said The Just Cause was the biggest thing she had done. Research for the project was headed up by her husband, local historian Chris Hare. The first year was all about research, with volunteers looking into the characters of the time in Worthing. They read through old Christ Church parish magazines and local newspapers to find the history of the 1880s. The second year involved writing and workshops, followed by auditions and rehearsals.

The Just Cause was billed as a Victorian romance and a 'rollicking good riot'. Former mayors Tom Wye and Bob Smytherman took part, Tom as Captain Drummond of the West Sussex Constabulary and Bob as the town crier. It was as a result of his role in the play that he was introduced by Worthing Town Centre Initiative as the official town crier, following his year in office as mayor.

Children from Chesswood School, Sion School and Worthing Youth Theatre also appeared, alongside performing arts students from Worthing College.

In one of the play’s dramatic moments, two young thieves, played by Trilby Baxter and Alice Norton, were hauled before Worthing magistrates, charged with stealing eggs. They are facing several lashes of the birch, until it emerged they had thrown the eggs at the Salvation Army Band, at which point the attitude of the magistrates, who were hostile to the Salvationists, softened considerably. The young defendants were let off with a small fine.