My Suffolk - Joanna Carrick

Joanna Carrick is the artistic director and founder of the acclaimed Suffolk-based theatre company, The Red Rose Chain. Jo has directed over 30 plays and initiated the much-lauded Theatre in the Forest. She has developed a unique process for researching and developing scripts, often working with groups that face social isolation or other difficulties in accessing the arts

How did you come to live in Suffolk?

I was born in Romford and my father was the Artistic Director of The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.  I moved to Suffolk with my parents when I was seven.  I had some cousins in Chelmondiston and we went to live in a cottage at the bottom of Pin Mill Lane, it was beautiful. After that we moved to Ipswich, right next to Christchurch Park. I went away to University in Cambridge and Drama School in London but I’ve always come back to Suffolk.

What is it about the county that you love?

I love the coast more than anything and the skies and sunsets.

If you were going to take one picture that represents the county what would it be?

It would be Gun Hill Beach at Southwold. It’s my absolute favourite place in the whole world.

Do you think it’s important to shop local and support independent businesses?

Yes I do, especially when the produce is local and great quality and the service is tailored to the individual. Southwold has lots of lovely independent shops like Collen and Claire and Two Magpies Bakery.

Do you enjoy the outdoors?

I love swimming in the sea off Southwold and Walberswick and I’m really into walking - although I’m rubbish at running. My favourite places for walking are The Blyth Valley and The Fynn Valley in Tuddenham, just outside Ipswich where I used to live in a little cottage when I was in my twenties.

Have you got any hobbies?

I love reading and swimming and gardening and I’ve just taught myself to knit. I’m terrible and I have made some very dodgy scarves… the next challenge is a jumper!

Where do you like to eat out?

I like Mariners on Ipswich Waterfront. The food and service are extremely good quality and the atmosphere on the boat is really relaxed and extra special. I also absolutely love the food at Loche Fyne we’ve never had a bad meal there.

Do you like to cook at home?

Yes, I love cooking but I tend to make things up rather than follow recipes. My mum was Italian so I tend to make lots of Italian food but I also make lots of curries.

If you had to show people around Suffolk where would you take them?

Of course Southwold… it’s the perfect place and works in every season. I’d also go to the amazing castles, Orford and Framlingham, rowing in Dedham Vale and have a day out at Jimmy’s Farm - fab food and lovely people and animals.

Why do you think Suffolk attracts many people from the creative industries?

I think it must be because of the peace and spirituality of the place. It’s accessible to people who need to be in London but it has an ancient historical character which is really grounding and quite addictive.

Do you get an opportunity to see other theatre or arts projects in the county and if so have you any favourites?

I admire Ivan Cutting’s work at Eastern Angles and I’m a massive fan of Inside Out - a wonderful charity which provides creative workshops for people recovering from mental health issues in Ipswich.

Your play Fallen in Love transferred to the Tower of London but it has a Suffolk story – what inspired you?

I was always fascinated by Anne Boleyn. I found out about the legend of Anne Boleyn’s heart being buried at the church at Erwarton when I was very young and I became intrigued by her local connections as well as her inspiring and tragic story. We first performed the play at Gippeswyk Hall where we are based in Ipswich and the Tudor historian Alison Weir came to see it and loved the play. From there we were introduced to The Tower of London. It was amazing to get a national platform for the work and we were overwhelmed by the large number of people from Suffolk who followed us to the Tower.

Are there any other local stories that might inspire you to create new theatre?

 Yes, lots of local stories inspire me and people with a lot of local knowledge often approach me with ideas. The first local historical figure I wrote about was Thomas Clarkson, the abolitionist who changed the world, with my play called The Ebony Box. I’m excited that we will be touring my play Different Buttons, about the history of St. Clements hospital. I’d like to write about John Constable and one of our lovely volunteers at Red Rose Chain is his direct descendent… so it could be a possibility. Historical drama really touches people today and I’m so grateful to The Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the work.