BENTWATER ROADS: Evening Star
There are many things you could take away from this piece, which looks at the life of the area over the centuries through the eyes of those who called it home.
How we're all connected in ways we can't begin to understand, how the past affects our present and future and how although we leave places and people, they don't always leave us.
This multi-layered story threads together early settlers the pagans, the farmers who built the church tower in the middle ages, the base at the height of the Cold War and then the present.
Charlie arrives to sell the family home after her mother dies. Her faith that she has no ties to the area is slowly shaken to the core as hidden truths and pain come to light.
Initially appearing to lack cohesion as we flit between the different times periods and plots, it subtly comes together with an emotional wallop that echoes back through the ages.
The hi-tech, former sound-proofed jet engine testing facility's vast hanger and exhaust port were used to great effect without it becoming gimmicky or its feeling of other-worldiness overshadowing the performances.
It feels almost a diservice to single out lone performers but Nadia Morgan, as the troubled Charlie, was superb - you felt like you were falling apart with her.
The entire cast were magnificent; making us laugh one moment, putting us through the emotional wringer the next - the closing scenes were both painful and uplifting to watch. All in all, a beautiful piece of theatre.
BENTWATER ROADS: WhatsOnStage
I've been to theatre performances in some strange places in the course of my critical career, but Eastern Angles' choice of venue for Bentwater Roads has to be a strong contender for the most spectacular. On an isolated disused airfield deep in the Suffolk countryside stands The Hush House, where the American Air Force tested jet engines during the Cold War. It's an enormous aircraft hangar with a tunnel at one end.
Tony Ramsay's play weaves three stories from the past into a contemporary one. Charlie is a young woman with a campervan, a fairly useless male friend and a vast quantity of unresolved family hang-ups. A US pilot is forced by impending fatherhood to reconsider his priorities and values as he rehearses responses to a perceived Soviet threat. In the 15th century the church of St John the Baptist in Wantisden acquires a new tower. During a time before even the Romans, let alone the Normans, a suffering community requires a blood sacrifice.
Because the location is in so many ways a place outside time, these disparate elements do interweave quite satisfactorily. Nadia Morgan is very good as Charlie, returned to a cottage which she's never really called home when her actress mother (Pamela Buchner) dies and she calls in the local estate agent Andrew (Daniel Copeland) to sell the place. Enter Mal (the excellent Peter Sowerbutts), a friend of the family who poses some awkward questions.
Jez (Mark Knightley) isn't much help with finding solutions of any sort. He may have a permanent girl-friend somewhere else, but the thought of what the pretty little cottage might make on the open market is too tempting. Interestingly, Knightley also plays Crotus, the young villager who sees his beloved Cunovinda (Caitlin Thorburn) taken to propitiate the gods and is prepared to do something positive about it. Sally Ann Burnett plays two widows, Cunovinda's mother and Mistress Middleton, who commissions the church tower.
Ramsay's script is most credible when dealing with the more modern characters; his difficulty is in writing for those of the past in a way which seems equally authentic when presented in such close juxtaposition. We need to believe that all these people are equally three-dimensional and alive as they come before us, and I for one didn't feel that. Ivan Cutting directs his large cast of professional actors and community volunteers to keep most of the longueurs at bay. The designer is Keith Baker.
BENTWATER ROADS: Glen's Theatre Blog
A sense of belonging is a powerful driving force and is at the heart of Eastern Angles latest site specific production Bentwater Roads. The company use the Hush House on the former cold war Bentwaters air base, a building that was used to test engines on A10 tank buster planes. It proves to be a wonderful atmospheric theatrical venue, its architecture proving a visual backdrop to the piece.
Charlie returns to Suffolk in her bright yellow camper van to sort out her mother's estate. She thinks she has no links to the area and so is keen to sell her mothers cottage as soon as possible and return to a life on the road but ghosts from her past soon take her on a different road.
As well as a personal sense of belonging, Bentwater Roads is also a community's sense of belonging, exploring the many communities that have called the airbase home. Ancient Brittons, the US Air Force, Medieval Christians and the modern day community have all called the place where a small river turns home.
Tony Ramsay's play is a complex one, with interwoven timelines and overlapping eras resulting in many story arcs to be resolved during the play. With so much happening it is easy to get lost and it is really only at the end of the production that these seemingly disparate strands are tied together. Although on an epic scale at the end of the day it all boils down to a father and daughter's love.
Director Ivan Cutting uses the space to full advantage, focusing in on the intimate when needed before pulling out to use the full cavernous space. With such a time-span to cover this is truly an ensemble cast, with professional actors supplemented by a large chorus from the local community.
Eastern Angles work best when their productions link back to the local community and Bentwater Roads sees them back on top form. Bentwater Roads shows that you don't need a traditional venue to make theatre work and this turns out to be an epic play in an epic building.
BENTWATER ROADS: The Times
Once upon a time there was a place by a bend in a stream a few miles from the Suffolk coast that was sacred to the Ancient British. In Christian times it became a church, but a church without a village because the only reason for building it there was to smother its pagan importance. Much later a US airfield spread over the site, and engines were tested in an acoustically sealed hangar locally known as the Hush House.
In this extraordinary building, shaped like a cube with a tunnel sticking out at the back, Eastern Angles is staging the latest play by Tony Ramsay. Doing so means a temporary break in the company practice of touring the region's village halls and barns, but the possibilities of the space were rightly impossible to resist, and Ramsay creates an engrossing drama from the numerous pasts lurking around it.
He chooses four episodes - from Roman Britain, the Middle Ages, the USAF use of the airfield, and today - but none stays isolated from the others, and the way Ramsay subtly (and in one case thrillingly) links events adds greatly to the pleasures of the evening. In the contemporary scenes Nadia Morgan's troubled Charlie has returned in her yellow camper van to her mother's home where once again she is badgered by maternal criticism. But we soon suspect that the mother (Pamela Buchner) is dead and that Charlie's troubles are memories she can't forget along with others, to do with her vanished father, she seems unable to remember.
This is engrossing stuff and our way to its resolution takes us through ritual sacrifice in pagan times, the building of the church's tower, and a US pilot's doubts about flying a plane fitted with nuclear warheads. These matters may sound remote from each other but the play finds connections and most satisfyingly binds them together.
The audience sit on banks of seats installed at one end of the building and Ivan Cutting's direction makes striking use of the gaping tunnel facing us. Characters approach along it as if emerging from a dawning memory. The wooden cage that encloses the willing victim becomes the church tower, where one of Cutting's many vivid details has the sound of masons dimming as the tower is climbed.
Peter Sowerbutts gives notable performances as an outraged USAF commander and a sardonic neighbour but all the playing is strong, and the presence of a non-speaking chorus, drawn from the local community, gives added conviction to the village scenes.
BENTWATER ROADS: BBC Radio Suffolk
Never in a million years would I have thought I would be seeing theatre at Bentwaters!
However, after the trek to Rendlesham and crossing the enormous ex-RAF/US Air Force base of Bentwaters, I finally reached the Hush House where the innovative Eastern Angles company was showing its latest production called Bentwaters Roads.
The Hush House was a hangar used to test aircraft engines when Bentwaters was in active service and consequently the acoustic qualities of this building make it an unique performance space.
As the hangar doors were closed and the performance began, the building took on an other-worldly quality.
Tony Ramsay, the playwright, indulges us in time-travel as he weaves together four time periods subtly: Today's Suffolk, Cold War Suffolk, Medieval Suffolk and Pagan Times in the theatrical equivalent of an archaeological dig.
This is done by the various characters of these time periods entering through the long tunnel which dominates the Hush House, whilst the current day characters appear through more conventional stage entrances.
Death and identity
Charlie Middleton's return to Suffolk after the death of her mother forms the main plot of the play and throughout the it Charlie is forced to question her past and her identity.
Nadia Morgan, who plays Charlie, strongly anchors this production with her powerful performance.
The cast are given some exceptionally amusing and witty lines and quite a few guffaws were heard when Pamela Buchner's Josephine chided Charlie that ".. if you're going to be a lesbian at least be a smart one!"
Normally, the Eastern Angles are used to overcoming the challenges of their petite home, the Sir John Mills Theatre in Ipswich, with aplomb and the opportunities afforded by the Hush House have not been squandered either.
The use of projection on to the wall by the tunnel brings the audience into the minds of the characters and the subtle lighting evokes different time periods effectively. The larger set has been effectively used to create a sense of timelessness. We have metallic trees suggesting the nearby Rendlesham Forest and troughs of water implying nearby brooks.
During Act II, the drama is weaved together and the tempo of the play picks up a pace.
Some of the actors had the challenge of playing many different characters and I was particularly impressed with Alexander D'Andrea's ability to play an accent-perfect US pilot.
In another scene, he had the appropriate rural burr as a medieval stonemason.
As the play concludes, we are given a satisfying climax that unifies all the time-travel strands and makes us question family relationships, secrets and our local surroundings.
Whilst to many, a play within an aircraft hangar may smack of gimmickry, Eastern Angles have impressed me with this satisfying piece of local theatre that fosters both a sense of curiosity as well as informing me of my home county.
BENTWATER ROADS: East Anglian Daily Times
GREAT SHOW IS A SLICE OF LIFE.
Atmospheric, even mystical, this sparkling new Eastern Angles production is also substantial and robust in its telling of four stories of the Bent Waters.
A pagan settlement, a medieval village, an air force base and prime real estate, this is about the land and the people who have inhabited it over the centuries.
At its heart is the modern tale of Charlie (Charlotte) who arrives in a campervan with a friend (male: platonic) after her mother's death to sell the family home. Except it isn't a family home for Charlie. Shunted off to boarding school she rarely saw her actress mother.
Her mother showed up one afternoon to tell the six-year-old Charlie that her father was dead and she had a new one.
Painful, deeply buried memories are forced to the surface when Charlie puts the house on the market and comes into contact with people who know more about her parents then she does.
Scratching below the surface, metaphorically and actually, we go back to the airbase at the time of the Rendlesham incident when a young air man considers his feelings for a local girl who is having his baby; further back to the time when Wantisden Church - an anachronistic feature of the airbase - was bequeathed a tower; and further back still to times when beliefs surrounded the sun, the rain and crops.
A chorus of pagans, a constant presence, watch the future.
Writer Toney Ramsey tells the stories episodically, interweaving the themes of fatherhood, love and decisions we make "for best". Moments of humour, sadness and tenderness are interlaced with local colour spanning two millennia.
There is a fine central performance from Nadia Morgan as Charlie and tremendous support from all the principles in all the time zones.
Sally Burnett as the medieval widow and the pagan mother was faultless and Daniel Copeland, who was, by ironic turns, an estate agent and medieval priest, possesses a rare talent for both comedy and gravitas.
Strong performances too from Pamela Bucher, beautifully spoken as Charlie's mother; Alexander D'Andrea as the sexy stonemason and the principled pilot; Mark Knightly as Charlie's un welcome suitor and the pagan lover; Caitlin Morgan, who shone as the young pagan maiden; Peter Sowerbutts as the combative neighbour; and Richard Sandells as the innocuous airbase clerk.
The Hush House is distinguished by its long, circular tunnel reaching back from the stage area. Used to enormous effect it was an entrance from, and exit into, the mists of time.
The sound effects, with a starring part of their own, were fabulous. When aircraft went over, I nearly ducked.
Tightly directed by Ivan Cutting, Bentwater Roads is a slice of Suffolk and a slice of life.