11 July 2022

Rachel’s Theatre Challenge – at the Two Sisters Arts Centre, Trimley

By Rachel Sloane
Outside the Two Sisters Arts Centre, Trimley

The Two Sisters Arts Theatre is based in a redundant church in Trimley St Mary, which  opened in April 2019. It is a theatre I know well and always enjoy the intimate atmosphere and variety of performances. 

“I’d been looking for a suitable premises for Black and White Productions, my theatre group, for years,” explained Suzanne Hawkes, who had the idea and manages the venue.” I needed somewhere to perform in my home town. The Spa Pavilion was too big, and schools didn’t have the right atmosphere plus there is nowhere to keep things and you have to perform in the school holidays. Church halls are always booked up with stuff.

“I felt there was so many arts things going on in Felixstowe, with people who had talent, (poetry, drama, music), and they all needed a platform. I was looking for a building and happed to be doing some finance work for St Mary’s church, Walton at exactly the time they were talking about making one of the churches in Trimley redundant. I went to have a look at it and thought it would be perfect. It had toilets, a little kitchen, the vestry could be the green room … and I could see it all!”

It took three years to get permissions in place, followed by four months to do the decorating, install a specially made bar and theatre lighting. 

“ I call it a ‘pocket-venue’. I can get 60 comfortably in theatre style and 50 around tables, cabaret style. If I got 60 every time I would make a bit of money, even when paying performers!”

The Two Sisters Arts Centre is used for classical music, opera,  brass bands, sea shanty singers, swing, dramatic readings, story telling, poetry, jazz, and folk …and local groups use it for rehearsing. It is the home venue for the Black and White Theatre Company too.

“We also have a monthly jazz evening and we have a strong following for that. I alternate big names with local jazz performers and that seems to work. Felixstowe Café Poets meet here and I have a lot of singer song-writers, folk and roots evenings, touring plays and, of course, my own plays… a huge variety of stuff really. Something for everyone.”

The stage is a raised dais, with curtains across the arch of the chancel, and performers enter through that, or occasionally from the rear, through the audience. Most plays have minimal props and scenery and sometimes Suzanne’s plays also use back projection. The wooden wall panelling is painted red, there is the afore-mentioned bar, and some land on a farm almost opposite is the car parking area.

An intimate, small-scale, and friendly venue, the Two Sisters Arts Centre has performances to appeal to all tastes. 

Houdini, a magician among spirits by Richard Melchoir and Joshua Pickering

For this series I am trying to get to a variety of different types of productions and thought that magic would make an interesting change of genre. Hence choosing this touring play about Houdini and his campaign to expose the tricks of Victorian physics. As Harry Houdini says in the play, they may call him a trickster but he has never denied that. Magicians do tricks… they don’t pretend to have psychic powers. 

I have a problem with this review as there was no programme or cast list, so please bear with me. Is it three individual actors who have put on the tour… or is it a company? They were all good and I would like to name them! (I checked with Suzanne on the night and she had also pointed out the need for programmes.)

The actor playing Harry Houdini was obviously a good magician and along the way did some card and rope tricks and an impressive demonstration of getting out of a straitjacket.

The play opens in 1919 with a séance, held for Houdini, featuring the butler, and clairvoyant Mrs Carriere who contacted the spirit world thanks to ‘Walter’. (Again, with no programme I am relying on my scribbled notes for the characters’ names!) 

Gradually it became apparent that it was a hoax… and that was confirmed when Houdini stopped the play, turned to the audience and said so… and then demonstrated how the flying objects, knocking on tables and pumping for information were actually tricks performed by the scheming pair. As the scene was replayed for us it became more and more ‘over the top’ and was very funny. 

The play continued with more of Houdini’s campaign against charlatans, and involved Rasputin in Russia, and the disagreements he had with his friend Arthur Conan Doyle. Along the way we had more seances, references to fairies, magic spirit writing, and the promise Houdini and his wife made to each other that they would communicate via a code if one died, and that should prove/disprove any claims by spiritualists.

The tour is sponsored by the Arts Council, the three actors were very believable, the costumes excellent, and there were some complicated props that worked well. It was also interesting to hear more about Houdini’s campaign to expose false mediums, but PLEASE can we have a programme or at least a cast list? I wasn’t alone in wanting to know more about whom we were watching.

(PS: looking on the Houdini: a Magician Among Spirits Facebook Page now, I’ve eventually found out that Thom Bailey played the butler (great comic timing) and the husband of Mina Crandon, Sian Websdale (elegant and convincing) was the clairvoyants including Mina Crandon, a famous 1020’s psychic, and Joshua Pickering was the actor/magician who played Houdini, and was the co-author of the play).


Thursday 7 July 2022 – Touring details www.houdinishow.co.uk

An explanation from Joshua:

Thank you so much for coming to the Two Sisters venue for Houdini A Magician Among the Spirits. 
It was a lovely venue for our first stop on the tour. 

We decided against having a program not only to keep costs down but it seemed more environmentally friendly too. But yes, it does pose the question, who is in the show haha! 
Cast and crew: 
Harry Houdini – Joshua Pickering 

Mina Crandon / Carriere / Translator / Jean Conan Doyle – Sian Websdale 

Le Roi Crandon / Arthur Conan Doyle / Butler / Rasputin – Thom Bailey 

Writer – Richard Melchior and Joshua Pickering 

Director – Richard Melchior 

Lighting and Sound – Harry Quirk 

Producer – Joshua Pickering and Des Reynolds 

Website – https://houdinishow.co.uk/

We were funded by Arts Council England. We had two rounds of funding as part of their project grants. The first was for a series of workshops, working with local groups in the community to share ideas on what lockdown meant to them. The theme of restraint and constriction came up a lot. We then used those ideas in a 2 week intensive Research and Development period to create the show. 

The second round of funding was for the tour. We will be touring again in October 2023. And the dates will be on the website in the new year. You can also follow us on Facebook for updates. 

Joshua Pickering is a professional magician and children’s entertainer www.joshuapickeringmagic.com

Sian Websdale has just finished studying at drama school and is a professional dancer/actor 

Thom Bailey is a professional creative practitioner. “Thom Bailey Theatre” is committed to engaging, educating, and connecting communities through applied drama and arts education. For more information –