23 June 2021

Review: Children of the Revolution – The Story of Sealand by Suzanne Hawkes, Two Sisters Arts Centre, Trimley, 21-26 June 2021.

By Rachel Sloane

From Felixstowe clifftop, on a clear day, you can see Sealand, originally the Rough Tower, built as sea defences for WW1. Visitors and those newer to the area often ask what it is… but those of us who lived here in the 1960’s and 1970’s know something of its unbelievable history.

Felixstowe playwright, producer and actor, Suzanne Hawkes has once again researched part of local history and, with her cast from Black and White Productions, has created an evening of music and storytelling with her latest play, ‘Children of the Revolution, The Story of Sealand’.

As you would expect from this established group the roles of the Bates family, led by one time soldier and multiple-entrepreneur, Roy Bates (played by Dennis Bowron), and other characters, are played convincingly, with his son Michael (Thomas Haigh) acting as narrator of the incredible story, via a series of interviews with TV presenters and journalists.  With fast-changing scenes, a few props and projected photographs, we follow the eccentric father who wants to make money from a pirate radio station and ends up almost abandoning his son and daughter (Naomi Doust) on a windswept structure 7.5 miles out from Felixstowe beach. 

Kaftans, cheesecloth and ponchos took the audience back to the era of flower power and the Government battle against the pirate radio stations, who played the pop music that young people wanted to hear. (The crackling jingles and pirate radio banter took me right back to the 1960’s when I was struggling to hear properly as I listened on a tiny transistor radio.)

The recordings of The Monkees, The Temptations, Small Faces, Beatles and others, were complemented by the two live singers (Paul Stone and Stephanie Stoddart), accompanied by Bill Stoddart on two keyboards and guitar. Without Covid rules banning audience singing, I am sure, in our cabaret style seats, we would all have been singing along to Downtown, Here Comes the Sun, We’ve Only Just Begun, etc. 

However good the cast, it was the tale of Roy Bates, Sealand and Suzanne’s research that were the real stars of the evening. This was the story of Pirate Radio, raids on ships and forts, rivalry between radio stations, helicopter rescues, and siblings almost starving on a platform in the North Sea. It was the story of one easily bored man who wanted to challenge authority and make himself some money. Roy Bates occupied Rough Tower in 1968 and declared Sealand (in international waters) an independent Principality in 1975. He named his family Prince and Princesses, printed passports, raised his flag, captured the attention of the world’s press… but never achieved his dream of a Sealand resort with a casino, amusements, coffee shops etc…. or a Sealand radio station.

An amazing true story and, as the programme notes helpfully told us, ‘Roy died in 2021 at the age of 91 after suffering from Alzheimer’s, his wife Joan in 2016. Sealand is now maintained by two caretakers who take it in turns to man the fort. Michael is still very much involved – as are his two sons, Liam and James.’ 

Look for Sealand on the horizon when you next come to Felixstowe seafront.