Asylum – a place of refuge and that is what St Clement’s has been since it was built in 1870. Before that time Ipswich has nowhere for it’s mentally ill poor (Ipswich did have two private asylums, however these only offered help to those able to pay). The Victorian’s set about revolutionising the care of those suffering from mental illness and began to research treatment for this illness that takes on so many forms.
The Red Rose Chain have never been afraid of touching subjects that are sometimes a little sensitive. The company’s creative director Joanna Carrick has certainly been brave in the latest production “Different Buttons”, not only centres around mental illness and the history of St Clement’s but has also decided to stage the performance in the now recently closed hospital.
It must be said that the main St Clement’s building is magnificent, a typical grand Victorian building, from the road it resembles a country mansion, and in fact when it was built in the late 1800s it was in the country on the outskirts of Ipswich.
Different Buttons explores the history of the building and the hospital through the ghosts of patients from it’s past. Ruth (Rachel Clarke) is a 26-year-old girl waiting to be assessed by doctors in the present day. As she sits filling in her form in the waiting room, she is visited, almost reminiscent of that Victorian tale of A Christmas Carol, by ghosts from the past, but not her past but those of the building.
There’s Herbert Brett (David Newborn) one of the first inhabitants of the building who shuffles around and is clearly delusional. Next we meet Zachariah Elliot (superbly played by Christopher Ashman), Zachariah is in fact not a patient but a reporter for the Ipswich Gazette reporting on the splendid new building and as such acts as the narrator and historian.
Bobby Fynn is a stargazer from the late 60s, convinced we are going to be invaded. Played by Red Rose stalwart, Jimmy Grimes who makes a return to the company after a break of a few years. Jimmy for me stole the show, his actions, mannerisms and whole character not wavering for one minute. Even when not involved in the action Jimmy remained in character, playing with his fingers, fidgeting in a very captivating way that makes you feel you want to protect his vulnerability.
Nora Little, (Lauryn Redding) appears to be a tea lady, but we soon discover there’s more, her character inhabited St Clement’s in the 1920s. She doesn’t want to tell her story as the others have but instead links the stories of the others while dispensing tea, but will her story come out?
Different Buttons is a terrific tale, brilliantly acted and the direction is first class.
It touches on subjects that many will at first find uncomfortable, but through superb story telling you will learn a little more about St Clement’s and it’s inhabitants. It will also get people talking about mental illness, which is far more important than locking the subject away.
— Mark Keable, Ipswich24 —
Showing until June 2nd 2012. Tickets can be bought online at www.redrosechain.com/page/different-buttons or by calling the Box Office 01473 603388.
(All pictures by Nick Woolgar)