Show-stopping farewell to mark Theatre Royal chief executive’s 25 years at the helm
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
He is one of Norfolk's great cultural champions who in his 25 years at the helm of Norwich Theatre Royal has brought big shows to the city, overseen a major revamp of the venue, and championed theatre education.
Along the way he has also helped countless other arts organisations, including The Garage, Norwich Playhouse and St George's Theatre, and made a huge contribution to the county as a whole.
And at the theatre's annual meeting yesterday outgoing chief executive Peter Wilson, who leaves later this month, was given a suitably grand and theatrical farewell for his formal send-off from the theatre.
As he took to the stage to a huge round of applause from the audience, Mr Wilson joked: 'Welcome to this second leg of my first final farewell tour!'
But Mr Wilson, who spoke of how the Theatre Royal is 'as rich in potential as in its heritage,' knew only half of what was in store at the meeting.
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For after finishing his own speech with a moving performance of part of Tennyson's Ulysses, an array of surprises began to honour the man who has done everything from lead a £10m Theatre Royal refurbishment project to realising the vision for the newly-opened Stage Two learning and participation centre.
Rikki Jay, a panto regular for many years, returned to be master of ceremonies for the surprises which included the announcement the Stage Two auditorium was to be called the Peter Wilson Auditorium.
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David Merrick, a past chairman of trustees at the theatre, said: 'On behalf of all the trustees past and present, on behalf of the staff past and present, the volunteers, the friends, the ambassadors and all the audiences, thank you so much for the contribution you have made to the cultural scene here in Norwich. It has been amazing.'
Actor Martin Shaw said: 'To so many people Peter is the 'go to man' who has inspired the confidence and sense of unbounded possibility that turns dreams into reality.
He added: 'Every time I have performed at the Theatre Royal I've been aware of a special atmosphere, a sense of care, trust and comradeship, and this has been experienced by all members of the company. Actors and staff look forward to working here, and Peter's love of theatre, of the arts and all of us connected with it, is what makes this such a special place.'
Robert Noble, deputy managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, and managing director/producer at Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, described Mr Wilson as being the theatre's 'knight in shining armour' when he arrived 25 years ago and paid tribute to his 'immense contribution' in developing it into a venue which attracts all the major performance companies and also nurtures developing artists, including the now celebrated choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne in the early days of his career.
'It was very much Peter who persuaded me, working for Cameron Mackintosh, to bring the blockbusters Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Mary Poppins to Norwich,' he said.
'I can honestly say that Cameron Mackintosh believes Norwich to be one of the best and one of his favourite theatres in the country.'
He added: 'This theatre can only thank you for the love, dedication and skill you've poured into it for the last 25 years.'
Mr Wilson was also treated to performances from two young performers from Stage Two, Molly Cutter and Matthew Doswell, and a film of messages from people including actor Stephen Fry, EDP editor Nigel Pickover and members of the Theatre Royal team, before the curtain came down on his great big farewell with a colourful shower of confetti.
• See Monday's paper for an interview with Peter Wilson.