WORSHIPPERS at the church of St Mary, on the outskirts of Kilmington just north of Stourhead, walk weekly over the site of a heinous crime committed in Tudor times.
Audiences at the three performances of Murder Most Foul have a clearer idea of the story behind the murders of William Hartgill and his son John, in 1557.
Written by David Shirreff and directed by Christine Dunn, the play concentrates on the bitter feud between Lord Charles Stourton and the Hartgills, culminating in brutal murder and hangings in Salisbury Market Square.
Charles and his siblings were the offspring of William Stourton, 7th baron, and his first wife Elizabeth Dudley. He left her for Agnes ap Rhys (aka Rice). On his death he left his estate to Agnes. There was dispute as to who, if either, of the women was actually his wife, but the result was that Charles was denied the barony which he claimed as his rightful due.
He was a violent bully who surrounded himself with thugs. He and his wife, the devout Catholic Lady Anne, had three children.
After various legal actions which resulted in Charles Stourton’s imprisonment, he agreed to pay his debts to the Hartgills (in whose house his mother now lived). But the rendezvous to settle the debt was in fact a rout, and his instruction to slaughter William and John Hartgill was carried out by one of his servants, who left a trail of blood leading to the Stourton cellar.
The 8th Baron was arrested, tried and hanged.
The 22-strong cast, with the three musicians of The Splinters, played 39 characters as the tale unfolded, played against the church wall to the audience seated in the old graveyard. The company, whose members came from Kilmington, Zeals, Bourton, Bruton, Frome and Midsomer Norton, had rehearsed two versions of the play – one for indoor and one for outdoor performance.
Neither allow for subtle performance, but the powerful story was convincingly told. Steve Scammel’s Lord Stourton was a real villain, only relaxing from roaring and fist-shaking when he was with his wife, movingly played by Rose Keegan. Christine Dunn not only directed but also dealt the fatal blows, as Martyn Trevellyan and Emma Craigie died in the shadow of the church tower.
Richard Moore was particularly memorable as the Gaoler, but this was an ensemble piece and everyone played their parts, setting the scenes and evoking the period and the tension.
And at the end the audience was invited to partake in historic refreshments and games and enjoy more music. Profits from the production are donated to the repair and restoration fund for the church, the oldest parts of which date back to 1338.