The play, ‘The Surlingham Girl’, created by students aged 14 and 15 at Framingham Earl High School and their teacher Ms Joc Mack, marks the 250th birth year of Surlingham’s Susannah Holmes, a simple and illiterate servant girl, from the village,who was sentenced to hang at Thetford Assizes in 1784 for the theft of tea spoons and linen. She narrowly escaped the gallows and spent three years in Norwich Castle, then the town’s prison. She ended up on the first ships taking prisoners to Autralia.
Norwich Castle was a grim and forbidding place in 1784, where chains, leg irons and worse were used to keep inmates in order. Yet in this dreadful place, love blossomed for young Susannah and a fellow convict, Henry Kable from Suffolk. Henry, too, had been sentenced to death for his part in a robbery. His father and uncle were hanged for the crime on Norwich Castle Hill, but Henry, like Susannah, was one of the lucky few to receive a reprieve.
Henry and Susannah fell deeply in love and wanted to marry. Henry begged to be allowed to accompany Susannah when she was transported to Australia. The authorities refused them permission to marry even when their baby was born in the prison cells.They would not allow Henry to accompany Susannah on the first ever fleet of ships to leave Britain for Botany Bay.
The dreadful day came when Norfolk’s own Romeo and Juliet were forced apart. It was obvious that they would never, ever be able to see each other again …. or would they?
“This is a real rough and tough love story,” says 15 year old Tiegan Sankey, from Surlingham who plays Susannah’s well to do employer, a fellow prisoner and the captain of the convict ship. “It is a very dark fairytale, but what makes it so amazing is that it is all true. All this happened to a Surlingham girl not much older than me!”
14 year old Rosie Skipp, who plays Susannah Holmes, is very enthusiastic about her role. “When we started out, Susannah Holmes was just a name in an interesting story, but now she is a real living, breathing person to me. I know so much about her and am amazed at what she went through. I have really enjoyed working on this challenging role.”
“Doing a play like this really makes the people and the history come to life,” explains 14 year old Robert Sims, who plays the prison governor, a prison inmate, a crew member on the convict ship and a modern Autralian. “We have learned so much about real people, real places and real events. We have had to work hard as a Drama ensemble to bring over 20 characters to life between us.”
The students have performed to schools and at Norwich Playhouse and are delighted to do a special performance for Surlingham, in the church where Susannah was christened.
The play is 35 minutes long. Refreshments will be served after the performance. There is no cost for this performance, but donations towards church funds will be gratefully accepted. We look forward to welcoming Surlingham to ‘The Surlingham Girl’!
Photo: Rosie Skipp as Susannah Holmes and Lucas Codling as Henry Kable in ‘The Surlingham Girl’, a new play created by Framingham Earl High School.
Information received from Jocelyn Mack