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Review: Jo Carrick’s Different Buttons @ The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich!

Vist Daisy Jones's Profile

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As I arrived at the Avenue Theatre to watch what is only Red Rose Chain’s second ever production in their new home, I didn’t know what to expect. What I saw left me speechless

Different Buttons is surprising, emotional, and powerful theatre which draws on some fascinating local history.

Artistic Director Jo Carrick (who I spoke to about her stunning adaptation of Wuthering Heights last summer) wrote Different Buttons to commemorate the closure of the local St Clements Hospital in 2012.

Weaving together the stories of different patients and staff throughout the hospital’s 140 year history, the play creates a rich portrait of the place and the people whose lives it affected.

“It was an amazing piece to research,” said Jo, when I caught up with her before the show. “All of the characters are real people who spent time in St Clements.”

And those characters are captivating to watch – Nora Little (Rachael McCormick) is ‘sharp as a pin’ but spent 75 years at St Clements; the painfully shy Bobby Fynn (Daniel Abbott) is convinced Venutians are going to land in the hospital grounds; and Herbert Brett (David Newborn) proclaims himself the King of Ipswich.

Their stories play out when Ruth Taylor (Lucy Telleck), a modern teenager, arrives at the hospital. And all the while Victorian journalist Zacharia Elliot (Tom McCarron) is writing an article about the newly built hospital, not yet completed, with all the naïve optimism of the era.

“People hear about it and think ‘Oh, it was an awful asylum’ but it wasn’t like that at all,” said Jo. “The 1870s were actually a time of great philanthropy.”

In turns funny, tragic and frightening, Different Buttons explores the lives of the incredible real people admitted to St Clements and the doctors who treated them. And in the intimate space that is the Avenue Theatre, with a strong ensemble cast who keep the energy and stakes high throughout the performance, it really packs a punch.

Thought-provoking and haunting, it’s a play that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

Words: Daisy Jones

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