26 September 2022

Rachel’s Theatre Tour reaches Sir John Mills Theatre in the Eastern Angles Centre, Ipswich

By Rachel Sloane
The Eastern Angles Centre

Based in an old Victorian Primary School, the Ipswich-based touring theatre company Eastern Angles is having a new lease of life. The Sir John Mills Theatre is an Ipswich studio-style theatre and has been home to Eastern Angles’ work for decades. Now the company have expanded into the rest of the school building and developed it into an Arts & Heritage Community Hub for West Ipswich. What was once the Suffolk Records Office has become the Eastern Angles Centre, with the Sir John Mills Theatre being one area of this large community building. 

 “We started moving in just as the pandemic hit and so had to bide our time for the Records Office to move out with both of our staff under severe restrictions of movement, attendance and health. We have now opened up the building to our local community with various activities like Homework Club, Digital Drop In, Ipswich Reggae Choir, and our current Summer Holiday Club. It’s great to see a place that was previously very secluded come alive and literally fling the doors and windows open,”explained  Ivan Cutting, Artistic Director of Eastern Angles.

Their website says: 

“We provide professional rural touring and site-specific theatre with a focus on new writing, new audiences and the development of new talent. Our stories and themes are derived from our sense of place, specifically East Anglia and the East of England. Since forming in 1982, Eastern Angles have blazed a trail across East Anglia for 40 years, and expanded to national tours and Edinburgh Festival residencies. Based in Ipswich at The Eastern Angles Centre, the company has a second base in Peterborough.”

The much-loved studio theatre with its raked seating and floor level stage area remains the same, but entrance is from the car park via the glass atrium foyer, rather than the old cramped lobby of the school entrance, on the main street.



Satellite by Natalie Songer

‘Satellites’ by Natalie Songer (production images taken by Dave Guttridge)

I was a bit puzzled by the publicity for this one-woman show and really had little idea what it was about: 

In the year 2,002,018, the space craft Pioneer 10 arrives at the giant star of Aldebaran. In 1945, Tom and his brother Cor lose each other in war. Tom became part of one of humanity’s greatest successes- the space programme; and Cor becomes part of humanity’s greatest failure- the concentration camp system. Generations later, in this personal, intimate and bittersweet epic of family, disappearance and space travel, their great-niece tries to reunite them.

I actually told a friend that I was going to a sci-fi play! I should have said it was a cleverly dramatised ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ style production.

Written by the actress Natalie Songer, it tells the story of her research into her Dutch ancestor Cor Gehrels, with the help of her Great Uncle Tom Gehrels who worked post-war for NASA – hence the reference in the publicity to space travel and the year 2,002,018 which had confused me. 

Natalie discovered that Cor had been in the Dutch Resistance and had died in a German concentration camp, and she has turned the story of her research into an intriguing theatre production showing the assembling of the jigsaw of information that she discovered in her travels in America, Holland and Germany. 

I really enjoyed this unique production and was awestruck that Natalie not only remembered the words of the 80 minute script she was performing, (with no interval) but also remembered the order that she moved and opened the cardboard boxes that contained props to illustrate her story, and operated the old-style projector that showed photos of the people she was talking about (and the date of each scene). Sitting near the front of the audience, I saw her pride at her Great Uncle’s achievements but also the tears in her eyes as the story of Cor reached its sad conclusion.

As well as a screen and desk, on stage were boxes, labelled ‘Signposts’, ‘Loyalties’ ‘Memories’ etc. These were moved by Natalie to create impressions of locations, or to illustrate the story – such as Great Uncle Tom’s journey from Holland to America after the war, (the journey she repeated), which was represented by a line of national flags she pulled, like a magician, from one of the boxes. Others contained research papers or symbols such as a handful of soil, a balloon, or a leaf.

As Natalie narrated her story, she talked directly to us in the audience but when she was repeating a comment or answer she had been told, she spoke into a microphone. Once you understood the difference it made perfect sense. 

I thought the saddest thing was that, after writing to her Great Uncle Tom in America and getting so much help from him with her research, he died before they were able to meet. 

As the audience arrived, we had been invited by Natalie to take a stone from a box. We left, adding our stone to the small pile on the stage – representing the legacies of Tom and Cor and our memories of our own loved ones. 

I am SO glad I saw this show, and congratulate Natalie who, with director Nicholas Barton-Wines, created this unusual and absorbing production. I have to say ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, the TV programme, will seem very tame after seeing ‘Satellites’!



From the play: ”In the year 2,002,018, the space craft Pioneer 10 arrives at the giant star of Aldebaran.” 

I was inspired to Google ‘NASA’, and their website confirmed that Pioneer 10 was launched on March 2, 1972 and its last signal reached Earth on Jan. 23, 2003. It really is still hurtling silently onwards towards Aldebaran. 

Tom Gehrels was an esteemed space pioneer and author,  and Natalie’s Great Uncle Tom’s work is still very relevant today. 

Satellites is touring East Anglia until 8th October 2022 : http://nataliesonger.com/satellites

Production images taken by Dave Guttridge: