Ipswich: Red Rose Chain casts Magic Fishbone spell over Jimmy’s Farm

Red Rose Chain's The Magic Fishbone starring Anna Doolan

Red Rose Chain's The Magic Fishbone starring Anna Doolan - Credit: Archant

The venue was being assembled around us and the heating was proving... temperamental when I stopped by rehearsals. But with its new theatre taking shape at Gippeswyk Hall and two theatre in the forest shows to think about, Red Rose Chain’s production of The Magic Fishbone could very well be the calm before the storm.

Red Rose Chain's The Magic Fishbone starring Anna Doolan

Red Rose Chain's The Magic Fishbone starring Anna Doolan - Credit: Archant

Alicia is poor, working all day long looking after her little brothers and sisters with no friends of her own save for a ragdoll duchess and Percy Pickles, the fishmonger’s son. Everything changes when she’s given a magic fishbone which will give her anything she wishes for - as long as she wishes for it at the right moment.

Joanna Carrick’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ short story wowed audiences, myself included, at Ipswich’s Christchurch Mansion last year. This time it’ll be performed in the Aspall Barn at Jimmy’s Farm.

“I think the venue’s lovely... the play’s set in an attic and the beams look just beautiful; it looks like the set was made for this space.

“I’m excited. It’s always a challenge going into new venues, site specific theatre... I’m looking forward to having our new theatre at the hall because then I’ll know what I’ve got to deal with it; it’ll be warm, dry, a bit easier,” she laughs.

“Having said that, there’s something so special about coming to a theatre event somewhere like this; it’s going to be ultra Christmassy. It feels even more Dickensian in this barn, it’s a bit like going back in time,” Joanna laughs again.

Most of the elements are exactly the same as last time; with all involved deciding during rehearsals if it’s working why change it?

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There are a few new, lovely little moments and magic fishbone Clyde - created by WarHorse assistant puppetry director Jimmy Grimes and worked by regular Red Rose Chain actor Joel Johnson - will be joined by a new friend.

“There’s one extra puppet, who’s a little surprise at the end, she’s rather lovely,” smiles Joanna. “Also I’ve got a different actor playing Percy who’s Laurence (Pears) who was with us (for Theatre in the Forest) in the summer; he’s very inventive, very funny, also very sincere.”

Having a different cast member - Pears replaces the fantastic Scott Ellis this time around - has added an extra zing to proceedings, adding different layers to the performances of the returning Johnson and Anna Doolan who have grown in the roles over the year.

“It’s amazing to see; they’re such a talented, amazing trio. They play lots of parts... when it’s just the three of them on stage you think ‘are there really only three people in this play’.”

Running until January 5 at the Wherstead farm, Red Rose are also taking The Magic Fishbone to St George the Martyr Church in Southwark, London, on January 11.

Dickens was closely associated with St George’s and the original wall of Marshalsea debtors’ prison - which features heavily in Joanna’s adaptation and is where Dickens, as a child, visited his father when he was imprisoned for debt - still stands in the churchyard.

“It couldn’t be more perfect,” she says, as talks turns to next year’s Theatre in the Forest double bill, again at Jimmy’s Farm.

“A Comedy Of Errors and Wuthering Heights; one absolutely ridiculous comedy and the other very ghostly and romantic so they’ll be amazing contrast.”

The plan is to start with Errors, then after three weeks introduce Heights. From then on, there will be weeks where you can see both on alternating nights.

“We have some people who travel from a long way off and the farm is also going to do camping next summer which is brilliant news so people can stay and see both shows. On the very last Saturday of the run we’re going to do one show in the afternoon and one in the evening so,” she laughs, “that’ll be the killer day.”

With two summer shows to prep and major building work continuing at their Ipswich HQ; revisiting The Magic Fishbone was a no-brainer.

“It was such a success last year and we also thought there are lots of people who said ‘I didn’t get round to seeing it but I heard it was great’ and, yes, we were tight for time so just thought ‘why don’t we do it again...’

“For those who have (seen the show before) I’d confidently say it’s worth another look because the (more) times you watch it you see something new - even I do. We’ve got a great new actor and a new puppet I won’t tell you about” smiles Joanna. “If you haven’t seen it there’s no argument... it’s funny, sweet, magical and for the whole family but also makes your brain work in quite an interesting way, it’s working on lots of different levels.”

If you don’t believe her, how about Red Rose Chain patron Emma Freud?

“I am really looking forward to enjoying Christmas in Suffolk and bringing my friends and family to see The Magic Fishbone. I saw it last year and was bowled over by the inventiveness and fun of it all. I can’t wait.”