Eastern Angles actor on their latest period drama

Keiron Pim After being reprieved from a hefty funding cut, Eastern Angles is bringing its latest theatrical production to towns and villages all over the region. Keiron Pim spoke to actor Tim Bell, who is playing the lead in the historical tale Cuckoo Teapot.

Keiron Pim

At the dawn of the 20th century, Norfolk's agricultural labourers faced a bleak prospect when autumn turned to winter.

Their seasonal work dried up and it was hard to make ends meet while remaining in the county.

So what did they do? Many of them relocated to the midlands town of Burton-on-Trent, in the heart of the Potteries, where the breweries' maltings always needed strong men who were happy to work hard in gruelling conditions.

When they came home again the Norkies, as they were known, always brought their mums back a teapot - but in the latest play from Eastern Angles, one of them brings home something else: a baby.

“The play is set at the turn of the last century and it's about what used to happen in Norfolk, when all the labourers used to come off the farms and go to work on the breweries,” says Tim Bell, who plays the male lead in Cuckoo Teapot, a new production that is currently on tour.

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One of the many theories about the origin of the phrase 'gone for a Burton' was the annual migration from East Anglia to Burton to do the malting in the breweries, Tim explained.

“Our play is about one of those lads, played by me, who goes to Burton to discover more about his brother who has been there in the past. While he's there he meets a girl and they become star-crossed lovers. Although the play starts off being about Joseph, it's an ensemble piece. It's as much about family as about him.”

Directed by Ivan Cutting and written by Kate Griffin - who was born in Woodbridge and educated at Norwich High School for Girls - the play begins in 1898 when a young Norkie arrives home in Norfolk with a baby. It continues 15 years later, on the verge of the first world war, when the child is a teenager and three people from Norfolk arrive in Burton, each of them guarding a secret.

Tim, who grew up in Thorpe St Andrew, near Norwich, plays opposite Bryony Harding, also born in Norwich. She plays 15-year-old Emily, a Staffordshire girl who stands up to her employer and to her grandmother and hints at wanting to be a suffragette.

Tim describes it as “certainly the biggest role I have had” and it comes on the back of a steady stream of interesting jobs. His love of being on stage dates back to his childhood.

“I first got into acting and drama at the Norwich Theatre Royal arts course run by David Lambert. I started there at the age of eight playing a tree in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I grew up in Norwich and did a lot of drama with the Theatre Royal through to the age of 19. It gave me a real love for it.

“During my teens it stopped being standing on stage waving at my mum and my mates, and turned into something I considered for a career.”

That career has had plenty of highlights so far. He took a couple of his own shows up to the Edinburgh Fringe, including one that was performed in a lift.

“It was one of the big ones you get in tube stations, so you could get 16 members of the audience in there and seven actors,” he says.

After graduating from the Webber Douglas drama college in 2004, 26-year-old Tim made his professional debut at the Eye theatre where he was Buttons in Cinderella.

“I have been quite lucky, I suppose, in that all the jobs I have done have been quite varied, which has been great from an acting point of view because you can put your training to good use.

“I went undercover for Panorama which was great fun. It was about ageism in the workplace and we did trial job interviews with secret cameras on. It was a real James Bond job - I had some hidden in my lapel.

“They also had someone 30 years older than me, with a very similar CV, and the same qualifications who went for the same job.”

“I must have applied for 60 jobs and went for 15-20 job interviews.”

There was only one job that the older person got rather than Tim - working in the classical music section of a big music store.

Tim also appeared as “Thomas, the dimwitted butler” in a production of She Stoops to Conquer filmed at Wiveton Hall in Norfolk, which was recently screened on the Sky Arts channel and has just finished filming a new British thriller on the Isle of Mull called Blooded.

But, for now, his focus is on the latest production from Eastern Angles, the region's leading touring theatre company. It recently earned a reprieve from the Arts Council, which restored most of the proposed swingeing cut in the company's funding. The company aims to bring high quality drama to towns and villages across East Anglia and the chances are that Cuckoo Teapot will be staged somewhere very near you.

Cuckoo Teapot is on tour until Saturday May 10, visiting a total of 52 venues across Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk. The company is keen to raise awareness of its Downham Market performance - at the Town Hall at 7.30pm on March 26. Tickets are £7 and £8 and are available by ringing 01473 211498 or from Lewks Music Store in Downham Market.

Full details of all performances on the tour are available at www.easternangles.co.uk