Sidmouth playwright’s research pays off

Drama highlights poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s friendship with Marsh Chapel minister

AFTER months spent poring over Victorian manuscripts and reference books, Sidmouth’s award-winning playwright, Christine Hardy, has written a full length drama about the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the years she lived in Sidmouth.

Christine was asked by the United Reformed Church to research and write a play about Elizabeth Barrett (as she was in 1832) and her friendship with the minister of Marsh Chapel, the Reverend George B Hunter.

Marsh Chapel was situated where the Ham car park is now and was the predecessor of the current URC Church in Chapel Street.

Armed with a booklet provided by the church, Christine thought she would quickly produce a short one act play, but discovered that Elizabeth and Mr Hunter provided enough dramatic material for a full length production.

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She said: “Their relationship was remarkable for many reasons. Elizabeth’s father rarely welcomed outsiders into the family home and yet Mr Hunter and his young daughter Mary were soon part of the extensive Barrett family.

“Elizabeth and her sisters Henrietta and Arabella educated Mary. Elizabeth was inspired by Mr Hunter’s eloquent sermons and sought his opinion of her work not only during 1832-35, when she lived in Sidmouth, but for the next 11 years until she secretly married fellow poet Robert Browning in 1846.

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“There is a wealth of material available and it was difficult not to get sidetracked into the fascinating details of Elizabeth’s family and life in Italy.”

Called Elizabeth and Mr Hunter, her play is based on, and includes quotes from, Elizabeth’s letters and little known poems, written especially for Mr Hunter and Mary.

These letters contain beautiful descriptions of Sidmouth in the early 1830’s and charming details of Elizabeth’s life in the town.

The play will be performed from July 4-7 at the United Reformed Church in aid of local charities.

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