Ipswich: New theatre, new season for Red Rose Chain - shows revealed

Queen Elizabeth I, played by Elsie Bennett, is the subject of Red Rose Chain's Progress, being stage

Queen Elizabeth I, played by Elsie Bennett, is the subject of Red Rose Chain's Progress, being staged in February. Photo: Bill Jackson - Credit: Archant

“We’ve kicked things off ambitiously haven’t we,” laughs Red Rose Chain producer David Newborn as we talk about the company’s debut season at its new theatre The Avenue.

“We’ve really gone for it and, hopefully, it’s a good indication of what The Avenue is going to be.”

The first play is about Ipswich and, says Newborn, for Ipswich.

Combining professional theatre productions with its community programme; the opening season kicks off in February with artistic director Joanna Carrick’s new historical piece Progress.

Set in 1561, it is based on Queen Elizabeth I’s real visit to Ipswich when she was 27 and features court intrigue, scandal and passion set against the backdrop of the story of the Ipswich martyrs.

“Off the back of Fallen in Love (which explored Anne Boleyn’s life and her marriage to Henry VIII), she’d had it in her mind about writing about Elizabeth as Anne’s daughter. She’d also heard about her visit to Ipswich which she researched. There’s lots of interesting stuff about the political and historical significance of that visit that has come out of it and has gone into the script.”

Running from February to May, the season is made up of five shows before the company starts work on next year’s Theatre in the Forest which Newborn bills as “the ultimate Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

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After Progress, the company revisit Different Buttons; Carrick’s look into the life of Ipswich’s former Victorian asylum St Clement’s Hospital, interweaving the stories of former residents over the course of its 140-year history.

“It was incredibly popular... Lots of people since have either said ‘oh we loved it do it again’ or were desperate to see it.”

The Arts Council England and East of England Co-op funded project based on the myth of The Green Children of Woolpit, created for young audiences with disabilities and additional needs, follows in April.

“It’s going to be a really immersive, sensory piece that their families and friends can enjoy as well.”

The fourth show, still a work in progress, is Shattered which takes the story of the Snow Queen and uses it as an allegory to explore the dangers of the internet and create a forum where the issues can be discussed.

A Suffolk County Council commission for schools, Red Rose Chain will open it up to the public too.

“I think that’s a really good way (of discussing it) rather than having a play with two young people texting each other. There are lots of issues around safety, predators, that sort of thing on the internet but there are also issues of addiction too,” says Carrick, fresh out of a meeting.

The final show at The Avenue will be The Red Shoes, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story for the youth theatre, an amazingly inclusive, diverse group, on for four days.

The Avenue new season brochure will be out mid-November but you can read it at www.redrosechain.com now.

Designed by Nicholas Jacob Architects in collaboration with Charles Curry Hyde LLP and built by Elliston, Steady and Hawes, Red Rose Chain took possession of the keys to the studio theatre at Gippeswyk Hall, Ipswich, earlier this month.

Made possible by a £1million grant from The Heritage Lottery Fund and additional funds from Viridor, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council, Red Rose Chain is holding an open weekend tea party on November 22-23.

People will have the chance to take a look around and find out more about the company’s ongoing fundraising campaign which benefits its community and education projects.