Professional theatre co set for debut

Keiron Pim The county’s first professional theatre company is finally here, and the emphasis is on using local talent both on stage and behind the scenes. KEIRON PIM spoke to Martin Hutson, the acclaimed actor who is directing its debut play – a tribute to the great American playwright David Mamet.

Keiron Pim

Norwich has long had a thriving arts scene but no professional theatre company to call its own - which has left it lacking in comparison with many other cities.

“Sheffield has the Crucible, Leeds has the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Bath has the Theatre Royal Bath,” says the locally-raised actor and director Martin Hutson. “Norwich is a major city, which is expanding all the time. There are two massive shopping malls, Cinema City has just had a brilliant refurbishment, there's a history of having an arts and music festival - but where is the home-produced theatre?”

Now this is set to change with the opening production from the Actors Company, a new professional company dedicated to staging high quality theatre in Norwich. It makes its debut performance later this spring, when Martin will be directing one of David Mamet's early works, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, marking the American playwright's 60th birthday.

Martin is 32 and has made his name through a series of high profile roles, playing leads at the National Theatre, the RSC and the Almeida. His most recent television appearance was in The Passion, playing 'Pilate's secretary' - “10 days in Morocco, hanging around with Jimmy Nesbitt and sweating,” he laughs.

He is focused on making the Actors Company's debut everything that the new company aspires to be.

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“We are concentrating on contemporary writing and modern classics,” he says. “Everybody is professional and the idea is to pool local talent, whether it is the lighting technicians or the actors, and produce theatre of a national standard.

“We want to give professional local actors the chance to perform in the region and we want to give local audiences the chance to see top quality contemporary drama.”

Jo Reil, who co-founded the company in April 2007 with David Lambert and Asa Cannell, adds: “The Actors Company is unique to the area because of the type of theatre we aim to produce. It's an exciting opportunity for Norfolk audiences to see home-grown talent and support a company that is daring to create contemporary, relevant work with integrity and innovation, at a standard comparable to the country's leading theatre practitioners.”

The emphasis on showcasing local talent is there to see in the cast for Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Carl Prekopp, who grew up near Aylsham, has been cast opposite Jo Reil, with the actors filling the remaining two roles yet to be announced. Martin was born in Lowestoft, attended Norwich School and now lives in London, completing a line-up with strong local roots.

The play is set in the time and place it was written - 1970s America - and follows the story of commitment-phobic Bernie, whose negative view of relationships and the opposite sex is shaped by the fact he is living in an era when feminism was rising up against sexist attitudes.

“Since time immemorial women had been marginalised and patronised,” says Martin. “Feminism finally had broken through into the mainstream - [Germaine Greer's book] The Female Eunuch was a bestseller, and it wasn't just a specific group of women who were angry but something far broader. This play is about what happens when within that atmosphere, men and women try to date.”

He describes it as “brutal and emotional” but also “incredibly funny”.

“It's a brilliant comedy but while you are laughing there is poison in it too. It's considered to be David Mamet's first major play; it was written in 1974. It's a response to the atmosphere of the time.

“The Playhouse is a perfect venue for it - it's a four-hander, a single act and not very long. I hope that the audience will sit down, take a breath and won't breathe out again until the lights come up.”

Sexual Perversity in Chicago runs from May 20-24 at the Norwich Playhouse in St George's Street. Tickets will cost £10 with concessions available. Call the box office on 01603 630000 or book online at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

The Theatre Royal Norwich and Godfrey Morgan Solicitors are supporting the Actors Company project but more sponsors are needed. Any individuals or businesses that would like to help finance the city's only professional theatre company should call 01603 283380 and speak to Jo Reil or David Lambert.