The offer of doing a show in Isaac’s Bar, in the restored merchant quarter of Ipswich, gave me the idea of doing a promenade performance. The challenge of creating a play for a set of three migrant communities, rather than just one, helped the subject become more complex. We then set up interviews with Polish, Portuguese and Afro-Caribbean emigrants (largely because we already had some contact with them )and the two ideas got put together.
Is there a connection with Return to Akenfeld, (which also concerned migrant workers?
No, although everyone is doing plays with Poles in now! In fact quite the opposite, the fact of R2A being verbatim in style meant that I felt we had to do something different with this show. So it was a reaction against the sheer storytelling approach and propelled us towards the surreal.
You've been involved with Eastern Angles for a number of years. How has your role within the company developed?
It hasn’t. I’m still the boss who directs, occasionally writes, and dreams up new ideas and productions. If anything I’m trying to go into reverse and get more guest directors and writers in to enable the company to plan for the future without me!
I first came across Eastern Angles through the touring productions of Dickens' David Copperfield and Wilkie Collins' No Name. Why have you moved away from this type of production?
I hope we haven’t, although there was a period when every other show seemed to be set in the nineteenth century. We have tried to become more contemporary. Having said that, we re-toured David Copperfield and I would love to do No Name again if we could solve the problem of the last two new characters who come in too late in the game. We did Arthur Ransome’s We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea last year and hope to tour that again next year.
What's the background to Eastern Angles itself?
Five actors looking for work about 28 years ago, me being a fan of Peter Cheeseman’s documentary theatre approach, a gap in the market in this area, keen funding bodies and sheer bloody persistence.
How is it funded?
About 40 per cent Arts Council East funding, 40 per cent earned income and 20 per cent other stuff. Not bad for a small-scale touring company. We’re pretty entrepreneurial, doing our own Christmas show, hiring our venues and seating and also being self-promoting in the small market towns we visit.
Does having its own theatre affect the type of work now being done?
Not really, except for doing the Christmas show, which is an opportunity we have exploited for over 20 years. It also gives us the chance to develop a loyal and local audience for other things too. But we spend most of our time getting out of Ipswich.
How much overlap with the New Wolsey is there?
We are good buddies and share an enthusiasm for cultural diversity, which is quite remarkable given that ninety-nine per cent of our audience is white and rural. We’ve just helped them present their Pulse Festival by being a ‘festival venue’ and we share planning and other strategies with them. We pinch each other’s technicians, actors and board members on a regular basis!
Is your audience much the same as it always has been?
We do have an older audience, but we had an older audience 25 years ago. They’re not the same ones! People do get more interested in regional things as they get older. Young people tend to be interested in their own street and Africa. Gradually they find places in between. However, we have recently found and enjoyed a younger audience by commissioning younger writers, performing shorter shows, taking shows to Edinburgh and finding a different touring circuit.
How do you see the future of the company developing?
It’s still the company that I can see doing the things I dream of doing – more site-specific stuff (next year in an acoustically-sealed old jet-aircraft hanger on a disused airfield), good writing, technically cheeky, great actors from a wide background – and basically taking people on the journey they didn’t know they wanted to go on. We’re also taking work to Peterborough, which is a challenge set us by the Arts Council, and I’m determined to find a way to make this new initiative work and make a real splash there. We’ve got lots of ideas that I’m looking forward to trying.
And your own?
Although I talk of handing the company on, hopefully with a good resources, programme and name, I’m not hanging up my clogs yet.
Ivan Cutting was talking to Anne Morley-Priestman