After 13 years of fighting off the threat of rain and midges – while still managing to grow audience numbers – Suffolk’s Red Rose Chain is quite literally upping sticks and moving their annual summer season production from the depths of Rendlesham Forest to a new home in the wooded area on the site of Jimmy's Farm, the rare breeds venture made famous by a series of television documentaries.
The new venue, in Wherstead, on the western outskirts of Ipswich will be the backdrop for this year’s performance of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew in July.
Red Rose Chain’s artistic director Joanna Carrick told WoS: “It’s a great opportunity at Jimmy's Farm to work in partnership. They can offer us security too, as they’re agreeing to host us over five years and they're taking over the refreshment side.” There had been concerns about how much time Red Rose Chain would be allowed to perform in Rendlesham Forest beyond 2014.
She continued: “It’s a chance to reach new and additional audiences and to create a new auditorium in a beautiful deciduous wood. A new site equals a new creative challenge, which is what I feel I need.”
Over the past 13 years, Red Rose Chain has seen its Theatre in the Forest audiences grow from less than a hundred over a single weekend to over 10,000 people throughout a lengthy summer season. And as their reputation and business model grows, Carrick is very aware of the temerity of such a move after more than a decade; however, the relative remoteness of Rendlesham Forest, over 15 miles to the west of Ipswich, is known to be prohibitive to those wishing to visit from south of the county.
“We hope and believe the audiences will grow,” she said. “We have a loyal following and, so far, the response from our regulars has been very positive, so we hope most will come with us. Also, the farm is very accessible for Ipswich (just seven minutes from the main station) and very close to new markets in Colchester and the rest of Essex.”
Celebrity farmer Jimmy Doherty is delighted to be welcoming the company to the farm: “We are so excited to be partnering Red Rose Chain in what we know will be a magical theatrical experience,” he commented. “The company’s reputation for providing the very best theatre is second-to-none and we can’t wait to get involved with one of the county’s - if not country’s - most exciting companies.”
Producing a large scale show in the middle of the secluded Forestry Commission site over the years has not been without its moments of unintentional hilarity, Carrick relates, including a power failure that resulted in a show being lit with flashlights, and an actor having their costume stolen and having to improvise, leaving the hapless player to looking more like Nana Mouskouri than a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Never ones to avoid controversy, in past productions, audiences have been treated to the cast of Hamlet singing Dem Bones, Dem Bones, and King Lear charging around on a gilded mobility scooter.
Unusually, Joanna Carrick isn’t going to be appearing in The Taming of The Shrew but she’s looking forward to directing the 25 performances. “I have in mind a production that's hilarious and upbeat, while not evading the obvious gender-political minefield that the play presents. We are not going to end in misery with Kate's spirit destroyed - it's going to be a battle of two massive personalities. In our production, they will both be winners."
The Taming of the Shrew will run from July 23 to August 25.