18 October 2022

The Theatre Tour returns to Ipswich – this time to the Avenue Theatre

By Rachel Sloane

The Red Rose Theatre Company is well known for its amazing outdoor productions of Shakespeare.  Always a madcap ride that are perfect for both newcomers to his work and aficionados, this year they took Macbeth to their new summer home of Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge. (Read my review here:


However, many people don’t realise that since 2015 they have their own theatre, next to Gippeswyck Park, near the Ipswich Railway station. 

The Avenue Theatre incorporates the Grade Two Listed 19th century Gippeswyck Hall and a modern extension. The Hall has been a private home, a measles isolation hospital, offices and a training centre for forklift truck drivers and is haunted apparently! 

The new part of the building is at the rear, and there is a small carpark, but The Avenue is just a short walk from the station carpark. 

Entering a light-filled foyer (with a friendly welcoming team) there is a café for drinks and snacks, and doors to the studio-style small theatre that offers a flexible performing space. I have seen it used arena-style for Noel Coward’s Private Lives,  where the audience sat around four sides of the performance area, and I have also sat in tiered seating, facing the performers.

The Avenue Theatre cafe

Wherever and whatever show the Red Rose Chain produces, it never ends without the founder, writer and director Joanna Carrick, mentioning their community theatre groups for disabled, disadvantaged and vulnerable adults and children. It is an integral part of their work. Many of their professional productions also involve members of those community groups in various ways.  That community work is based at The Avenue Theatre.

The Nightingale by Joanna Carrick, produced by the Gold Chainers 

The Nightingale poster

Red Rose has two youth theatres for young people with learning disabilities, Junior Gold Chainers for 11-18 year olds and Gold Chainers for the 18 plus. This series of theatre visits was always intended to include amateur and professional shows and a wide range of genres, and I chose to go to this performance at The Avenue with that in mind.  

This Arts Council supported project has been, thanks to Covid restrictions, three years in the making after the March 2020 premiere had to be delayed. The company continued to meet via zoom and craft boxes sent to their homes.  Finally, they were able to do three performances of The Nightingale over the weekend of 15th and 16th October 2022.  The Gold Chainers were involved in the song-writing, designing the set and costumes, making props, choreography and creating characters for the play.

It was an appreciative and vocal audience of families, friends (and another disability group) who greeted the joyous cast as they ran in, dressed in brightly coloured dungarees. 

The story of The Nightingale is of an Emperor (played by Matthew Ford) who, reading in a pop-up book that there exists a small brown bird with a beautiful song, and hearing that one lives in his garden, demands the bird is caught and brought to him. The Nightingale (Jodie Moore) is then kept in a cage, admired by all, but is neglected and forgotten when a mechanical bird (Ella Chinnery) is later given to the Emperor. 

Released from his cage by Ivy (Eleanor Hopegood) who is horrified by the bird’s plight, when the mechanical bird breaks down, the dying Emperor demands his real nightingale back. After some persuading, the cage is destroyed, and the Emperor’s  dying wish is that no more birds are ever caged again. The released Nightingale builds a nest in a tree by the palace, baby birds are born ….and the Emperor recovers. 

That sounds such a simple plot but the joy and commitment of the Gold Chainers as they dance, sing and say their words (carefully assigned according to ability) was a pleasure to watch… and was actually quite emotional, even for me who knew no one in the cast. Imagine what it must have been like for their families!    

When the play ended, all the cast, and the professionals who worked with them, gathered to sit on the stage and talk about what the group meant to them. The young people all said that the Gold Chainers had improved their confidence and they’d made new friends, and all wanted to thank Joanna and her team for what they did for them. 

I enjoyed the play: it made me laugh and brought a lump to my throat. After seeing what the young people had achieved, I was very happy to put a donation in the bucket as I left. (The Red Rose Theatre Company community work is ‘no audition- no fee’.)


Lyrics of The Nightingale song