A year of dramatic change for Suffolk’s Red Rose Chain
As individuals we don’t like change – but Ipswich-based theatre company Red Rose Chain is discovering that change is good.
It seems that 2013 is turning out to be something of a momentous year for them. Artistic director Joanna Carrick has struck a fantastic deal to perform a play at The Tower of London during May and June, the company’s annual Theatre-In-The-Forest summer showcase has moved to a new high-profile location at Jimmy’s Farm and work is about to start on a £968,300 extension to their Gippeswyk Hall headquarters.
“It is certainly going to be an amazing year,” said Jo, who is already starting rehearsals for the Tower of London play, which will be a new production of Fallen In Love, Jo’s play about Anne Boleyn’s close relationship with her brother George during her courtship and marriage to Henry VIII.
For Jo it’s a further endorsement of the way that the company continues to develop over the years.
Red Rose Chain started as a small, focused youth theatre group providing acting workshops and small productions for youth groups, before expanding into social care projects and film work.
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As the company’s success grew, so did the size of their facilities. Their production base moved from a lofty first floor office suite in Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich to a larger facility in Back Hamlet before moving onto their current home at Gippeswyk Hall after the Witch Bottle Theatre project on Ipswich Waterfront fell foul of the economic downturn.
The Witch Bottle hic-cup proved to be a blessing in disguise and their new home in a Tudor mansion on the edge of Gippeswyk park gives them more room to spread their wings and more space to accommodate audiences.
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Jo admits that although they have been working on all these various new projects for a while the fact that they have all come to fruition at the same time has made her head buzz a bit.
“It’s a real challenge to keep tabs on everything that’s going on,” she says, “But, wonderfully exciting. There is so much going on.”
Last year they also introduced a Christmas show into their already hectic schedule and plan to follow up The Magic Fishbone with another home-grown adaptation this year.
But, the first thing on Jo’s list of priorities is the re-staging of Fallen In Love. Landing the Tower of London as a venue is a huge coup – particularly as they will be performing on the anniversary of Anne’s death.
“We are performing over a six week period and we are staging the play in a building within the Tower and at again at Gippeswyk Hall.
“Within that period we are performing on 13 days and on the days we are there we are doing three shows a day. It’s the full play and we will be performing in the new armouries banqueting room which is a large open room with big beams – it looks stunning.”
She said they would be creating an atmospheric, intimate space in which to perform the play while still allowing the audience to be able to look out over the execution site.
“All the shows will benefit from the authentic setting but the evening shows, when the audience get to go into the Tower once the general public have gone, will be something really special. The May evening atmosphere will add a lot to the feel of the performances.
“I think that the performance of May 19, which is the anniversary of Anne’s death, will feel really spooky. Also for the past 100 years or more, every year, on the anniversary of her execution, some roses are delivered to the Tower, addressed to Anne. No-one knows who they are from. It is some-sort of bequest, that’s lodged with a solicitor. Some funds have been set-aside in somebody’s will for roses to be delivered to the Tower to mark Anne’s death each year.”
The play Fallen In Love gained enthusiastic reviews when it was staged last year at Gippeswyk Hall and Jo is taking the opportunity to revisit it this summer with a new cast and new direction.
“It’s a fresh approach because it’s a new space and the old cast weren’t necessarily available and it’s nice to start with a clean sheet of paper.
“I loved the first production but there are certain aspects of the play that I want to bring out more this time around. There are darker, more complex sides to the play that we will be bringing out in this production.”
She said that wearing her writer’s hat, she has resisted the temptation to go back and tinker with the script. “It worked well before. In the directing process last year I did a few, small, revisions, just to add clarification and fill out the characters in the latter part of the play but now I am pretty happy with it.
“As a director I can approach it now as if I hadn’t written it, which is what you want to do. You can’t be too precious about it.
“I am fortunate I have always been able to do that with a play. Almost within hours of having a finished something I can pick up a script and go: ‘What’s this all about then?’ There’s a strange distance I have about the things I write. It means I can come to things with a fresh mind.
“I have been known to talk a scene through with actors in rehearsal to try and sort out what the heart of a piece is. It is as if I haven’t written it. It’s strange, I admit, from a directing point of view quite useful because you get input from different points of view.”
As a director Jo loves to work as a collaborator rather than as a benevolent dictator – so plays emerge from workshop rehearsals and experimentation rather than Jo mapping out movements and instructing actors to hit their marks as they would on a film set.
“I’m not interested in saying: ‘This is what it means’, ‘This is how it is said’ I like to leave lots of gaps, so the actors can fill-in the answers. That enables them to make it their own play, that is what brings a play to life.
“That’s why I’m not concerned about going back and re-writing the script. The script has got loads in it. It’s just a question of going through it and choosing to highlight or emphasise certain aspects.
“This is a completely new production with completely new actors. Scott Ellis is playing George. I have worked with him quite a bit. He was Edmund in King Lear last summer and he was one of the three stars of The Magic Fishbone at Christmas. Anne is being played by a completely new actress to me – Emma Connell
Jo says she can always be surprised by actors who come in to audition for a role.
“You get some people come in and you know immediately that they are just wrong for the part then there are others who are not what you pictured in your minds eye when reading or writing the script and yet capture your imagination by doing something different with it.
“Anne is a very big, difficult, complicated role, so it is something you have to take seriously, so I will be drawn to someone who has done some research, looks as if she could pass for Anne Boleyn and has a serious approach to the role – without being a humourless person.”
She said that the key is to find someone who can create a believable person rather than a historical character.
“She goes from being a flirtatious girl to a betrayed woman. You need an actress who can play someone from 19 to 36 and really show in an hour and 25 minutes someone maturing and becoming hardened, cynical and bitter. You need someone who can show the pain and the pregnancies she goes through and the betrayal that she feels. You have to see an enormous journey – and believe it.”
She said that this contrasts with her contradictory love of life at court. She loved the intrigue and power games she witnessed at court. “The court was such a hothouse environment that many people just shied away from – her sister Mary for one – but it was an addictive atmosphere and a highly competitive one.”
She said that both Anne and George were both hugely ambitious individuals who came from very ambitious families. They both sought what was the ultimate prize which was to seek to influence the King of England and secure lasting favour on their family.
“When Henry was married to Catherine, Anne was pursuing Harry Percy, the most eligible bachelor in Britain. She is knocked back and told she is not good enough. Not only does she not accept this judgement, she opts to go one higher and sets her sights on the king. It is extraordinary ambition.”
She said that their link up with The Tower of London came about as a result of their previous production. Author and historian Alison Weir saw and loved the show and wrote to the head of historical palaces recommending that they should consider booking it as a visitor attraction.
This was backed up by Time Team’s Dr Suzanna Lipscomb who also endorsed the drama.
Understandably, staging a play about the life and death of Anne Boleyn is a big deal for Jo and for Red Rose Chain but that is just one of the challenges facing them this year.
No sooner will have Fallen In Love had its last night, then preparations will need to be underway for The Taming of The Shrew, this year’s Theatre-In-Forest, which will have a new home.
After 13 years of playing to audiences in a natural, tree-lined amphitheatre in Rendlesham Forest, Red Rose Chain have decided to upsticks and go into partnership with farmer and TV documentary film-maker Jimmy Doherty.
They have struck a three year deal to stage their hugely popular Theatre-in-the-Forest productions at Jimmy’s Farm, just outside Ipswich, which Jo says will be more easily accessible for both the production team and for the audiences.
“The Forestry Commission gave us no security of tenure and we felt that it was time to move on. We have gone into partnership with Jimmy. He’s got the infrastructure to handle the people and the car parking – we are providing the staging and the entertainment.
“When a great opportunity presents itself – you seize it, you go for it. This means that Theatre-in-the-Forest gets a new boost. It gets re-newed because we are looking at it slightly differently because it’s a new venue – although, having said that, all the essentials which made the event so special will remain the same.”
She said that the wood will be more of a traditional English deciduous landscape. “It’s more of a Robin Hood wood – a more natural environment rather lots of pine trees planted in straight rows.
“We will play in a natural theatre bowl, among the trees, as we did at Rendlesham, but it will be better because the arena is being tailored for our needs.”
Then, at roughly the same time, work starts on the studio theatre extension and added workspace at the rear of Gippeswyk Hall.
Building work starts in June. She said that they are currently considering quotes. In addition to the studio space they will gain a new kitchen, a dining area, a foyer and a courtyard
“The theatre itself will have some massive barn doors which we can open up onto the garden if we want to – so it will be very flexible.
“The space itself is very adaptable so we can do anything we want in there. The maximum we are looking at seating is 200 but that figure can be reduced if we want to increase the size of the stage or the acting area.
“The idea is that it will be a flexible space so we can configure it in a variety of different ways.”
She said that the studio space will be used for workshops, youth activities and by the various groups that meet and work with Red Rose Chain as well as for performances.
“It gives all our groups a home which is very important.”
Although work is starting in June it is unlikely to be ready for Christmas which gives Jo the task of finding a home for their as yet unnamed Christmas production. “I’m sure what’s happening there yet, there’s so much going on in my brain, but we’ll get there.”
She said that the studio theatre is likely to open around Easter 2014.
In the meantime Jo is now rehearsing Fallen In Love, which is playing at The Tower of London and at Gippeswyk Hall in May and June, and planning The Taming of the Shrew, the theatre-in-the-forest production, for August.
n Tickets for Fallen in Love are now on sale and Taming of the Shrew are on sale after Easter.