Gallery: Suzanne Hawke’s “The Rise and Fall” to reap rewards

Suzanne started writing before she went to school.

She said: “I recently came across a notebook with poetry I had written when I was about four. I loved the beach and found the sea inspiring from a very early age.”

After beginning her playwriting career back in 2000 Suzanne’s work has gone from strength to strength with inspiration drawn from local topics and personalities.

Her latest play Thomas Wolsey – The Rise and Fall has been performed to sell-out audiences across the region.

First performed back in May and with a successful run in July, she has been asked to revive it next month as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days.

Suzanne said: “I always say to my actors that the size of the audience doesn’t matter but it is very rewarding when something sells well. Thomas Wolsey has exceeded all my expectations.”

Born and bred in her beloved Felixstowe, Suzanne’s family ran Girling’s store in Langer Road.

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She said: “I was brought up in a newsagent’s and grocer’s shop. I have five brothers and sisters. My father ran the shop for 45 years. The beach and the sea were an early inspiration and I would walk up and down the beach composing stories and poems.

“I would play on Landguard Common with my brother and we would often find spent ordnance, it really interested me and I often wondered who the people were who left those things behind.”

Using her creative talents to write stories for her younger brothers and sisters, Suzanne was a pupil at Langer Road Primary School and later Orwell and Deben high schools.

She said: “I was good at English and history but I was a very shy and introverted child. Mr Hotton my English teacher was a big inspiration to me. He crystallized my love of poetry and classical literature and he introduced me to drama as well. I was too shy to go on the stage but I was the assistant director in the sixth form productions we did and that started my love of theatre.”

With an ambition to become a professional writer, Suzanne thought she would be a novelist or short story writer.

She said: “It didn’t work out that way. I had a family and I worked part-time for the post office instead.”

But it was after the birth of her first son that Suzanne began to get into the world of amateur theatre.

She said: “I joined FADOS and found I thoroughly enjoyed being on stage. I did lots of plays with them. We were due to take part in a festival but we didn’t have anything to perform so they asked me to write a one-act play. It was a ten-minute thriller and I found I loved writing plays and I loved the process of working with actors to bring my work to life.”

More plays followed and Suzanne wrote her first full length play – Company of Strangers – in 2000.

She said: “It was performed by FADOS and it was successful and I got a lot of good feedback. It was about the First World War and a former soldier recounting his experiences in the trenches.”

The next play was about suffragettes and the burning of the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe. Her work was performed in a number of village halls as well as Felixstowe Drama Festival.

In 2005 Ipswich Caribbean Association asked Suzanne to write about the Windrush generation and immigration to Ipswich. Snow and Sweet Potatoes was the result.

She was beginning to get into her stride and since then Suzanne as written, directed and produed a play about some aspect of local history once a year.

Topics have included Charles Dickens and his links to Ipswich and Suffolk, writer George Orwell, Bawdsey radar station, cartoonist Carl Giles and slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

Suzanne said: “I have a passion for taking drama out in to the community and I like to use site specific venues, that is why the Thomas Wolsey play has been performed in several churches in Suffolk which have links to the Tudors and the characters in the play.”

Each play takes about three to four months to research.

Suzanne, who lives in Orwell Road, said: “It takes about a month to prepare the first draft. I will write for about four hours a day. Once the draft is ready I get the actors together and we workshop the play and find out what works and what doesn’t. Changes are made and it evolves through the rehearsal period. The aim is they are entertaining as well as educational. I hope people go away feeling they have learnt something about the characters I have written about.”

Suzanne also regularly appears in her own productions – often as the comedy character.

She said: “I try to ensure all my plays have comedy, they are often about serious topics and people but there is room for laughter too. It is important to make the plays as accessible as possible. Taking part in them also gives me a reason to be backstage while it is all going on, I don’t like letting go.”

In the autumn Suzanne also produces a more light-hearted cabaret evening – Harry’s Bar – which is now in its fourth year.

Suzanne has come a long way since her first productions.

Next year Suzanne is tackling two new plays on two new topics – The Bartlett Hospital and Benjamin Britten.

She said: “I really enjoy it and I am never short of ideas. Felixstowe and the sea continue to inspire me. I couldn’t live anywhere else.”

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