Ipswich: Join theatre group Unscene Suffolk on a trip through time at town museum

Unscene Suffolk's 2013 show The Cave. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Unscene Suffolk's 2013 show The Cave. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

The cast of Unscene Suffolk’s Fossils have just finished a long rehearsal. Sat listening to director Jenni Halton give them notes, they’re like any other theatre company - which is exactly how they want it.

Unscene Suffolk's 2013 show The Cave. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Unscene Suffolk's 2013 show The Cave. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

“They range from people who are completely blind through to people in the early stages of sight loss,” she says. “It’s quite hardcore what we put them through... At this stage it doesn’t matter if you’re blind, deaf, old, young, man, woman; all those things go out the window - we’re all just making a piece of theatre and everyone teams together and that’s lovely.”

Stowmarket’s Mark Conquer agrees.

“I’ve been part of Unscene Suffolk since last year. It’s very hard work. Visual impairment is very isolating but at the same time we’re trying to do things in the community like anyone else.”

Fossils, looking at how history literally shapes our world, is the community theatre company’s second annual show; with funding now being sought for next year’s. Devised by the cast over a couple of months, the final script was written by Halton and Common Ground Theatre Company’s Pat Whymark.

“We work with them, improvising work around quite broad themes, from fossils to time machines, then Pat and I got together and said ‘right, how do we make this into one story’? We set a rough structure then encouraged the cast to improvise the individual scenes before we fixed the actual script.

“We find it really helps because if they’ve already physically acted a scene before they get their script they can learn it more easily because they know what happens.”

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The approach really helps first time actors like Maggie Davey from Stowmarket.

“It’s brilliant,” she laughs. “[I got involved] through Sensing Change... there were all these things going on and I fancied this and have been doing it ever since. I’ve never done it (acting) before, it’s scary but we’re all just a good bunch of friends really.”

Halton, who founded the company last year, says while there are downfalls with site-specific pieces, in this case not being able to shine bright lights on taxidermy or stick things to the wooden floor, Ipswich Museum, in High Street, is the perfect place to stage the show.

“There are lots of landmarks as we like to call them, they’re using the railings and the cabinets to find their ways around... It’s better for blind people than an empty stage.”

Using music, touch and lots of imagination to devise work accessible to both blind and sighted audiences, about a third of cast come through the Ipswich Blind Society and it’s social group Blink, with lots of support from Sensing Change too.

“The company has grown and it’s been very important to have the support and expertise of local organisations (like these),” says Halton, adding as far as she knows, the group is unique to Suffolk.

“In terms of groups for adults with disabilities of any kind... There’s much less provision for adults which is one of the reasons why we specifically started this group, because people were saying ‘we really need participatory arts opportunities for people over 18’.”

It’s a valuable facility.

“For their wellbeing, undeniably. We’ve got the Arts Council funding us which is looking for wonderful, great art and Suffolk Community Foundation funding us which is looking for us to make a real impact in the community and an impact in the lives of people who are quite vulnerable and don’t have a lot of opportunities not just to go out but to do something quite meaningful.”

Wayne Witney says the group provides people with friendship they might not have otherwise. When the chance to join came along he jumped on it.

“Without the support of Jenni the group wouldn’t be the success it is. I’d like to think the audience is focusing on the work we’re doing, I don’t like it when people go ‘aw bless’ - it’s rather condescending. I hope the audience will take from it that visually impaired people can perform just as well, sometimes even better than other performers.

Fossils runs from July 11-12.