Ploughing a wonky furrow’s like getting a bad theatre review says Eastern Angles’ Ivan Cutting
PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:08 26 June 2017
Ivan Cutting, artistic director and a founder of Eastern Angles, has a foot in Suffolk and Norfolk. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Suffolk runs through Ivan’s veins, despite moving to Harleston, just over the border, about 20 years ago when starting a family.
“We wanted a market town where we could push a buggy and get to the library, the bank, shops... We found a house which we absolutely fell in love with and thought we’d lost and then found we’d won again. I was born in Suffolk, my family comes from here. In fact I don’t know of any relatives that come from outside Suffolk so this is a big breakout.”
They were already halfway there, living in Mendlesham. His job as artistic director of Ipswich-based theatre company Eastern Angles means he often works at home or is travelling to London or Peterborough.
“I do love the train ride from Thetford to Peterborough. You go across the Brecklands, the river is winding round you as you go to Ely and then across the fens. I think that’s absolutely gorgeous; that western side is wonderful.”
Fiercely proud of East Anglia – “When you’re brought up somewhere you’re an ambassador and defend it... When you’re in other places” – he thinks the light is fantastic and loves the skies. He often goes west in search of dramatic hills but is pleased to return to such a relaxed landscape.
“One of the things I really like is it changes colour. In autumn the fields have been ploughed and it’s brown. Then gradually winter arrives and strips the green away. Then you get the green shoots, the rape, the golden harvest, so whatever time of the year, it’s different, the scenery changes. As much as I love hills they tend to stay the same.”
He’s always been fascinated by the skills of the horsemen.
“Their reputation depended on him being able to draw that straight furrow and they only ever got one go to get it right. If you didn’t then all the guys on Sunday would go down the pub, have a drink then they’d come out to investigate what you had done. If there was a kink, your reputation was ruined for that year because it stood there throughout the whole of the autumn.
“I always say it’s a bit like a theatre director getting a bad review in the paper, it’s there for people to see. How many other people have jobs where people are invited to come along and kick ‘em?
“There’s [lots of history here] and a lot of it hidden. The classic is Sutton Hoo, that idea it’s the equivalent of Stonehenge but underground. Although it’s kind of man-made history which is interesting. The other thing is the churches, wherever you drive, there’s always a tower just poking out,” says Ivan, who was part of the group which founded Eastern Angles in 1982.
Working out of the Sir John Mills Theatre, Eastern Angles covers an area almost as big as Wales.
“What East Anglia lacks is a metropolitan centre which sometimes can be a bit of a problem, there is no obvious place for things to be centred but that means things get distributed - so Norwich has the Theatre Royal, Ipswich has the New Wolsey... People get used to travelling between them.”
The region is a constant source of stories.
“We do theatre with what I call a sense of place... We’re trying to find what I call hidden areas of experience within the region and it is a region – one with a very proud history and a very proud identity. We’re trying to maintain that... One way is we take theatre to where people are [and] we create work about the region they live in. It’s celebrating the things people know about [the area] and exploring the things people don’t.”
His nearest beach now is Southwold, although when he was a youngster they had a beach hut at Felixstowe so have always gone to the coast.
“The remarkable thing about this area are the estuaries. We don’t have a decent river really, do we? There are little streams. When you go north you find out there’s The Tweed and The Tyne and all those kind of places but we have the estuaries which is, of course, what brought the Anglo-Saxons here. So they’re more than just estuaries, they’re arrival points of all these other people.
“I find places like Blythburgh really quite stunning... You’ve got the rolling countryside one side, an old workhouse just up the road, you’ve got the church where the dog [Black Shuck] is supposed to have been, the magic of the marshes, heath land, a ghost – and you’re within spitting distance of Walberswick and Southwold which are contrasting places.
“When I was a kid we lived in Shotley. My father had a company van, but the idea of actually having your own car was quite special. I think with another family we bought this old Rover and had this big green box on the back. It made the lines of the wonderful car look pretty terrible, but we’d stack all the beach gear in that and we’d drive to places like Walberswick.”
The division between Suffolk and Norfolk, at its most extreme on the football terraces, is what annoys Ivan most.
“The sheer kind of hatred... I’ve sat in Norwich with audiences where people have described the Ipswich supporters as scum... I have to confess I am an original Ipswich supporter but I’d like to think being an East Anglian I want both teams to do well.”
It extends, he says, beyond the pitch – to news coverage, the way local government works together and your chances of getting funding.
He’s hoping that will change with the new Local Enterprise Partnership and the new StartEast project which is about helping people in creative industries, especially in theatre, music and art. “I think there’s a cultural board on the LEP which is looking at cultural tourism for East Anglia because it’s got a massive amount to offer the rest of the country and international tourists.”
The area being falsely represented on TV is another irritant.
“Nobody can do the accent properly on the television or on the radio.”
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