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The magic of theatre - how a Norwich teenager with a magic show became the man behind West End hits and Peppa Pig

PUBLISHED: 10:45 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 14:12 21 April 2017

Edward Snape was still a teenager when he was appointed general manager of Cromer Pier Pavillion Theatre in 1985. Picture: EDP Library

Edward Snape was still a teenager when he was appointed general manager of Cromer Pier Pavillion Theatre in 1985. Picture: EDP Library

Archant

From the end of the pier to the end of the millennium, and from Peppa Pig to Shakespeare, Ed Snape’s career has been dramatic

Peppa Pig. Picture: Fiery AngelPeppa Pig. Picture: Fiery Angel

Today his shows delight audiences around the world and he works with stars including Dame Judi Dench, Rob Brydon, Kenneth Branagh, - and Peppa Pig.

But it all began at children’s parties in Norfolk, where Snippo, aka 12-year-old Edward Snape, would stage hugely popular magic shows. They featured real doves and a rabbit, and were lucrative enough to allow the young performer to set up his own theatre – in the garden of the family home in Horsford, just outside Norwich.

“I was very influenced by Dick Condon of the Theatre Royal,” said Edward. “I was a budding young entrepreneur, impresario, precocious, always on the go, making movies, staging shows.”

In his 30-seat theatre he staged plays, magic shows, musical events, fundraisers for charity and even a puppet pantomime.

Ruunning Wild. India Brown as Lilly with Oona. Picture: Dan TsantilisRuunning Wild. India Brown as Lilly with Oona. Picture: Dan Tsantilis

Ed was a pupil at Taverham High School, and then City College, Norwich, where his A levels included theatre studies. He joined the Theatre Arts Course set up by Norwich Theatre Royal manager Dick Condon, and it was Dick who suggested first a season as a Bluecoat at Pontins in Hemsby, and then a job running the summer season at Cromer’s end of the pier theatre. At 19 Ed became the youngest professional theatre manager in the country.

And then London beckoned.

Ed, whose father had been a financial director of English National Opera, started staging shows in the capital.

“Every show you are putting on is like starting a new business. It’s precarious,” he said. But he was only 25 when his first hit arrived.

Ed Snape, Marilyn Eardley and Kenneth Branagh at the press night party for The Entertainer, the final production in The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's West End season last year. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty ImagesEd Snape, Marilyn Eardley and Kenneth Branagh at the press night party for The Entertainer, the final production in The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's West End season last year. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

He saw the Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Festival, brought its comic masterpiece to the West End, and toured it across Britain. That was 25 years ago.

The following year he co-founded an independent ticketing company which became one of the UK’s largest. By 1999 he had produced several more West End shows and won a £4 million budget, as artist and creative producer, for the New Year’s Eve opening ceremony of the Millennium Dome. He helped reopen the new Arts Theatre in the heart of London’s West End in 2001 and over the following few years created West End, touring and international productions of shows including Roald Dahl’s The Big Friendly Giant, Cameron Mackintosh’s Five Guys Named Moe and Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

His wife, Marilyn Eardley, is also his business partner in their production company Fiery Angel, and they recently began working with Kenneth Branagh.

“So we were producing plays with Dame Judi Dench and Rob Brydon,” said Ed, sounding as if he still cannot quite believe the transformation from schoolboy magician. “We don’t go and have cups of tea with them every morning but they are people we really enjoy working with.”

But alongside the luminaries and luvvies, Ed and Marilyn work with another huge star, adored by millions.

“At the same time as I was producing Kenneth Branagh I was producing Peppa Pig. I had to distinguish between the two. They are both absolutely delightful superstars to work with!” he said.

He came across toddler-friendly Peppa when his own children were mesmerised by the television cartoon.

“His daughter is now 20, his son 16, and as they grew up, so did the children’s shows that Ed took on.

In 2011 Edward set up the not-for-profit Children’s Touring Partnership, which launched with a new stage adaption of the classic children’s novel Goodnight Mister Tom. It then toured the first ever production of John Boyne’s acclaimed novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and is now taking Michael Morpugo’s Running Wild to audiences around the country. The next projects are productions of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Ed is often back in East Anglia to visit his family. But his productions come here even more frequently. Running Wild arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal next week and while Peppa Pig is touring the United States, another of Ed’s big hits for small people, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, comes to Norwich Theatre Royal next month.

And the theatre he has loved from his own childhood is still one of his absolute favourites. “It’s regarded as one of the best theatres in the country because it is so well run and just large enough to take the biggest shows. And it draws in a big audience,” said Ed, the boy who began by creating his own theatre in his Norfolk back garden and now takes theatre to packed houses of everyone from toddlers to Shakespeare enthusiasts around the world.

Running Wild runs at Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday, April 25 to Saturday, April 29.

The adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book tells the story of a family on holiday in Indonesia when the tsunami hit. Lilly is riding an elephant and gets taken deep into the rainforest, where she meets tigers, orang-utans, hunger and hunters.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is at Norwich Theatre Royal on May 30 and 31, and King’s Lynn Corn Exchange on June 17 and 18.

It stars Holly, the fairy princess who is still learning to fly and make magic, and best friend Ben the Elf who doesn’t do wings or magic but can run very fast and fly on the back of a ladybird.

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