New artistic director of Maddermarket Theatre has passion for the stage

A role as a street urchin in Pickwick is what sparked Genevieve Raghu's passion for theatre.

She was in kindergarten and a dance student at Central School of Dancing and Performing Arts in Norwich, when she was picked to perform at the Theatre Royal alongside Harry Secombe and Roy Castle in the musical.

'Having Harry Secombe hold my hand and sing 'If I Ruled the World' to me, what an incredible experience – that gave me the buzz and excitement of this industry,' said Genevieve, who grew up in Eaton and whose family now live in Caistor St Edmund, near Norwich.

The 24-year-old, who joined the Maddermarket in February as artistic director, is clearly delighted to have returned to Norwich after a number of years away in Warwickshire and London. She speaks with passion about how the Maddermarket is her 'life and soul' at the moment, and how important it is to create opportunities in the arts in Norwich.

'Norwich is somewhere where careers [in the arts] can blossom, and it is important to make sure there are places like the Maddermarket Theatre, the Theatre Royal, and dance schools who can nurture and develop that passion,' she said.

'The Maddermarket offers so many opportunities. It is a small regional producing house with a great education and outreach section, a huge costume department and a great workshop.

'It is an incredible resource in East Anglia and what it can offer people is just incredible. What I have to do is help the theatre and the public make the most of the opportunities the theatre can and does offer.'

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After Pickwick, Genevieve's next role as a young performer was in a Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society production of Meet Me in St Louis, followed by a number of Theatre Royal pantomimes. This included playing one of the babes in Babes in the Wood alongside a young Aaron Sillis, the Drayton-born dancer and choreographer who has worked with the likes of Kylie Minogue.

Theatre Royal drama classes led to more shows, including performing in Nicholas Nickleby alongside Sam Claflin, who has gone on to star alongside Johnny Depp in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Genevieve, a former Norwich High School student also developed her theatrical skills in the classroom.

She wrote, directed and acted in a production of Sleeping Beauty at school when she was just 10 and took the lead in creating many more shows throughout her school career. The school's music department was also a particular inspiration to her.

Genevieve went on to study English at the University of Warwick, balancing studying with being secretary then president of the student drama society.

While at university she tried her hand at opera, directing Dido and Aeneas and taking it on a tour of the West Midlands and to London. She also did much work with Warwick Arts Centre including running the youth theatre programme and was the dramatist for translator David Johnston, who was adapting Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba for Coventry's Belgrade Theatre.

'I am interested in international theatre and translating texts because I think it is important to be aware of theatre in other countries.

'Language should not be a barrier, language should be a bridge, and watching international theatre broadens your perspectives,' she said.

She added that she set herself the challenge of learning the basics of Spanish in just four weeks when, post-university, she was given the chance to work on the opera L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love) in Spain.

Also since leaving university she has set up her own theatre company, Threepenny Theatre, for which she secured theatre critic Michael Billington as patron.

She has directed Miss Julie at Stratford Upon Avon's The Attic Theatre, assisted director Jamie Glover (who acted in Waterloo Road) with the show Single Spies at The Watermill Theatre in West Berkshire and assisted Norwich Theatre Royal's Peter Wilson with the show Sign of the Times starring Matthew Kelly at The Duchess Theatre in the West End.

She plans to use her experience to help further the Maddermarket Theatre's achievements.

'I was very, very excited to get the job,' she said. 'It showed that they (the interview panel) were being brave and had faith in me.

'I said in my interview that I wanted to take this theatre on a journey of risk; I wanted to widen the audience demographic and bring in more people. I just said I want the best for this theatre, that I know I can put it on the map, and please give me a chance.'

Genevieve said she wanted to ensure the theatre embraced all art forms.

'I want this to be a theatre which provides local people with the kind of theatre they want to watch and also theatre that they did not know existed. I want to bring them work which will excite and offer different ways of thinking about life,' she said.

'I want people to realise what an incredible resource the Maddermarket is, what a gem, what a treasure trove, and that it is the people's theatre for East Anglia.'

The first show Genevieve is directing for the Maddermarket is Noel Coward's comedy Present Laughter. 'It is all cast and I am very, very excited,' she said.

'It is going to be very glamorous and a really fun night out. I just cannot wait to get it on the stage. It opens on April 19.'

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