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The charming village home you’ll fall in love with

PUBLISHED: 13:41 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:41 27 February 2017

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Actress and Ink Festival director Julia Sowerbutts has made a fabulous village home in what she is delighted to call “an artistic corner of Suffolk”. Words and images by Tony Hall

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On a winter’s morning at her Walberswick home Julia Sowerbutts is talking about her passion for theatre and drama . . . and football.

“My father Joseph was originally a vicar in Leicester, where I was born and raised in a house near to the football ground, whose team I still support to this day. Their win in 2016 was very special,” she says. “I suppose that’s where I got my love of acting, of theatre, from. I often watched him giving sermons from the pulpit, captivating the congregation, holding them in his grasp. That initial impression has both influenced and stayed with me throughout life.

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“My mother was a concert pianist, my aunt a cellist and two uncles were leaders of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, so all were used to performing. On one occasion leading up to Christmas, Dad asked me to dress up in a red pillar box costume and walk up the aisle.

He then posted letters through the slit, which I had to grab and keep so they didn’t fall to the floor. My first bit of acting in front of people, such fun.”

Four years ago, Julia, a well known professional actress and theatre director, started the popular Ink Festival with associate artistic director Emma Struthers. Held annually at The Cut in Halesworth (this year April 22-23) the festival champions new writing of plays and films.

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“The aim,” says Julia, “is to encourage new writers, whatever their age or experience, particularly from East Anglia and then showcase over one weekend, quality back-to-back performances of short new plays and films.”

On leaving school, Julia channelled her passion for theatre and drama into studies at Durham University, followed by The Drama Studio in London and then more recently at the University of East Anglia, gaining a distinction in an MA in theatre directing.

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“I first came to Suffolk to work in the Southwold Summer Theatre, to gain my Equity card, in the days when Joan Shaw ran it. I was blown away with the location, the beach huts, the sea. You very quickly became part of the community – in those days you needed to beg for stage props from locals. I started as assistant stage manager and was on the curtain, when the ratchet broke and the ‘murdered’ actor just had to lie there.

They said, in future we think you would be better off on the stage, acting. It was a different new play each week, but fantastic training, all over the country including several times at Southwold.”

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In her first 10 years as an actress Julia worked in the West End with, among others, Martin Clunes, Donald Sinden and Beryl Reid, and all over the country including several times at The Bristol Old Vic, The New Vic and The Young Vic, plus time around Europe touring with a show on behalf of The British Council.

She then got married and now has four children – Joe, an actor, Theo, presently at Deloittes, who wants to be a singer, Troy, who is a musician and composer, and Cressi who is studying fashion photography at Falmouth.

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“My acting career stopped when I had the kids,” adds Julia, “but having very creative children – Joe, for instance, appeared in the films I Capture the Castle, and Turn of the Screw on ITV – as I chaperoned him on those, I realised I missed theatre, hence going to UEA. With the Ink Festival as a springboard we’ve transferred plays performed here to London, and, hopefully, next year Edinburgh as well.

One such play was Daughter by Bill Cashmore, which I took with Ink to The Pleasance Theatre in Islington.” Knowing Walberswick over the years, Julia and family moved to the village in 2002.

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“The house was much smaller then, just two bedrooms, but we’ve now extended it. What I loved immediately was the old gate from the garden to the sea, and naturally the sea views. Troops had been billeted here during World War ll, and subsequently an American airman, James Johnson, who was with 95 Bomb Group H, lived here.

“To get to know more people I decided to take part in the village panto. When we came to do the property extensions, the dig unearthed some old pots, which I now display in the cabinet above the dining table. As this site was originally a 14th century merchant’s house, some are from Holland, others from southwest France and another from Surrey, England.” Julia’s favourite room is her bathroom.

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“Where I can shut myself away for a good soak, then to bed with that fantastic sea view from my bedroom. My biggest joy living here is the space, the fresh air, the open skies, the marshes and the seascape. Having worked in theatre most of my life, people forget they are dark, except for the spotlights.

Although the stage is my passion, to return to natural beauty and light is so special. I try and swim every day of the year here in the North Sea, do a bit of running, yoga and playing tennis. I also love singing in a choir and ballroom dancing.

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“My favourite walks are to Covehithe, to see if a bit more coast has disappeared, and also around the Reed Beds here. Other days, when time permits, I might cycle along the old railway track across to Southwold and look into Chatterton’s dress shop, or maybe a lunch with friends at the cafe at Darsham Nurseries, where they have amazing sculptures as well as the gardens, and on to Framlingham to Dix Sept, a great French antiques shop selling beautiful and unusual artefacts. And her favourite waste of time?

“I can truly say I never have a minute to spare. For the 2017 festival, the team and I are going through over 100 new scripts submitted, a growing number every year. Being able to continue doing what I love, in this artistic corner of Suffolk, is fantastic.”

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Ink Festival, The Cut, Halesworth (near the station) April 22 and 23

inkfestival.org www.newcut.org, bookings tel: 0300 3033211

To register for more information about the festival contact julia@inkfestival.org and get a free entry into the prize draw to win a bottle of 2015 View East Rose from award winning Valley Farm Vineyard Suffolk, and two tickets to the Ink Festival Sponsor’s Event.

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Village life

OWNERS: Julia Sowerbutts and family

PROPERTY: Extended five bedroom detached house.

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BUILT: 1930

LOCATION: Walberswick

BOUGHT: 2002

FAVOURITE ROOM: My bathroom, where I can shut myself away for a good soak

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FAVOURITE ITEM: Some old pots, unearthed while building the extension

FAVOURITE INTERIORS SHOP: Dix Sept in Framlingham

FAVOURITE PART OF THE COUNTY: The village, the marshes, the sea

FAVOURITE DAY OUT: Cycling along the old railway track across to Southwold, or lunch with friends at Darsham Nurseries cafe

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FAVOURITE WALK: To Covehithe, and around the reed beds at Walberswick

FAVOURITE PUB/CAFE/PICNIC: The Anchor, Walberswick

HOBBIES: Swimming every day in the North Sea, a bit of running, yoga and tennis. Singing in a choir and ballroom dancing

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