Did William Shakespeare ever perform in Ipswich?

Thomas Wolsey play by Suzanne Hawkes

Thomas Wolsey play by Suzanne Hawkes - Credit: Contributed

There’s long been a theory that William Shakespeare once performed in Ipswich.

Playwright Suzanne Hawkes by the Wolsey Statue in Ipswich

Playwright Suzanne Hawkes by the Wolsey Statue in Ipswich

The story goes that the Bard started touring England after his company lost their first London theatre after a row with the landlord.

The year was 1596, Elizabeth I was on the throne, and Shakespeare was starting to find fame.

In the summer of that year, legend has it, Shakespeare and his troupe of players – The Chamberlain’s Men – came to our county town to perform in tavern courtyards.

No-one really knows but there is evidence to suggest The Chamberlain’s Men came to Suffolk but whether or not Shakespeare himself was with them is a matter of speculation.

Felixstowe Playright Suzanne Hawkes

Felixstowe Playright Suzanne Hawkes

Suzanne Hawkes, Felixstowe-based playwright, said: “I think he definitely came to Suffolk. The Chamberlain’s Men was his company, Shakespeare was an actor with them and a part owner.

“1596 was a difficult year for Shakespeare, his son Hammet had just died, there was political unrest, and he had been implicated in a brawl and summoned to a court of law which he probably wanted to avoid.

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“I think he came here with them and performed, but I don’t know what play. I suspect he was trying out some new material.”

Suzanne is preparing to put her theory into a new production mentored by the Royal Shakespeare Company to celebrate the bard’s 450th anniversary.

The Rise and Fall, a play about Thomas Wolsey by Felixstowe writer Suzanne Hawkes

The Rise and Fall, a play about Thomas Wolsey by Felixstowe writer Suzanne Hawkes - Credit: Archant

She said: “I am doing a lot of research and I am hoping to find some documents which will confirm at least some of the facts. Once I have done that research I hope to start writing very soon.

“It is a fascinating idea to think that one of the greatest playwrights in Western civilisation came to Ipswich. Shakespeare is an iconic historical and cultural figure and an inspiration for me as a writer.

“His way of using material to create dramatic and humorous characters, alongside his inventive use of language, was brilliant. Along with Christopher Marlowe he paved the way for modern theatre.”

Suzanne, whose work focuses on local history and characters, has been working with the RSC over the last several months to develop her ideas and production skills.

She said: “It has been amazing to work with the RSC. I have learnt so many new techniques about directing and workshopping with actors which I intend to use in this new play.”

The play, entitled Shakespeare In Suffolk, will be performed in a number of historic venues including Seckford Hall and Christchurch Mansion during the last week of April and the first week of June 2015.

Suzanne said: “I have chosen appropriate venues that would have been around in the 1590s in order to add atmosphere and authenticity to my work. The play will use extracts from various Shakespearean works and study the relationships he had with those around him including his wife and family as well as his rival Kit Marlowe. It will include comedy as well as tragedy, like his plays.”

The play will also include Elizabethan music, song and dance.

Suzanne, whose recent works have included plays about Thomas Wolsey, Carl Giles, George Orwell and Benjamin Britten, said: “This is a hugely exciting project for me, I have visited Stratford upon Avon and walked in his footsteps and feel I have got to know him really well. William Shakespeare is a complex character and I hope the play will do him and his work justice.”

In the meantime Suzanne is also working on her latest production, Harry’s Bar – From Russia with Love – the sixth in a series of themed drama and cabaret productions.

She said: “This Harry’s Bar focuses on Russia looking at the literary giants or Tolstoy and Chekov and will include spies, the cold war and a retired James Bond.”

With an eight strong cast, rehearsals are already under way.

Suzanne said: “The show will include poetry, music and comedy with a dramatic storyline that links it all together. It should be a relaxed and fun evening where you can have a drink and some nibbles while being entertained.”

Harry’s Bar – From Russia with Love will be performed at His Lordship’s Library at the Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe from February 3 to 7, 2015. Tickets are available from the box office on 01394 279613 or from Abbeygate Lighting in Felixstowe.

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