Note. This play was produced by the Colway Theatre Trust and not by DCPA which did not come into existence until November 1988.
Playwright: David Edgar
Performance venue: St Mary’s Parish Church, Dorchester
First performance: 18 November 1985
Play Office: Corn Exchange
Director: Ann Jellicoe
Assistant director: Jon Oram
Designer: Di Seymour
Music director: Andrew Dickson
Lighting director: Chris Edwards
Stage manager: Annie Hake
Play officer: Merry Hinsley
Entertaining Strangers covers 40 years of history. At the play’s core is a battle of wills between the Reverend Henry Moule, vicar of St George’s church, and Sarah Eldridge, proprietor of the Dragon Brewery – both of whom are challenged and changed by the great cholera outbreak which afflicted Dorchester in 1854.
Sarah Eldridge, a beer-brewing tradeswoman, embodies the free-thinking, bustling spirit of a community beginning to reap the rewards of the Industrial Revolution. The rise to commercial eminence runs parallel to the story of Reverend Henry Moule, a hard-line fundamentalist, who believes brewing to be a sinful trade. During the Dorchester cholera epidemic Moule, spiritually intolerant, proves socially altruistic, while self-interest keeps Sarah away from helping the infectious sick.
Much of the first half of the play is set in the 1830’s – the decade in which the great industrial revolution which had been brewing for 50 years finally flapped its great iron wings and flew, promising a seemingly limitless progress towards economic and social emancipation.
But then the story moves to the 1850’s, a decade in which the confines of that revolution became painfully apparent. For all the technical achievement of the first half of the 19th century, by the advent of the second great cholera epidemic the Victorians knew little more about the workings of their own bodies than the Tudors. And in cholera they faced a hitherto unknown disease, whose means of spread was a mystery and which attacked the new classes in the expanding towns to a disproportionate and often devastating extent.