Meet Norwich’s leading man

Norwich Theatre Royal's arts course has been a springboard for scores of Norfolk students to go on to careers in film, TV and theatre. EMMA LEE meets the course's leader, David Lambert.

With parents who both worked in the theatre, it was only natural that David Lambert would follow in their footsteps – not that they didn't do their best to deter him.

'With them both in the business there wasn't any option, although they tried to put me off, knowing what a tough life it can be. Even then I took no notice,' David says.

And the scores of Norfolk students he has mentored and inspired are surely thankful that he didn't heed their advice.

For more than 20 years David has run the Norwich Theatre Royal arts course.

The course has been a springboard for many young people to pursue a career in theatre, film, TV or radio.

Notable alumni include Carl Prekopp who starred in the stage version of Calendar Girls, Lisa Ellis who appeared in EastEnders, Neil Sheppeck who is the artistic director of the Love and Madness Theatre Company and who last week directed Romeo and Juliet at Norwich Cathedral as part of its annual Shakespeare festival, Tim Bell, artistic director of Shanty Theatre Company, and Daniel Burgess, currently an assistant director at Shakespeare's Globe.

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And, of course, there's Sam Claflin, who recently starred alongside Johnny Depp in the latest instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean blockbuster franchise and appeared in the critically acclaimed drama Any Human Heart.

Next week there's a chance to see some of the stars of the future tread the boards when 300 young people take part in the junior arts course's summer production at Norwich Theatre Royal.

Penned by David himself, Dorothy and the Princess of Oz is a sequel to the famous book and film, based on L Frank Baum's writings.

All sorts of things are going wrong – Dorothy's aunt and uncle's farm is mortgaged to the hilt and an army is about to take over the Emerald City.

Their only hope is the Lost Princess, whose powers can bring everything back to normal, and so Dorothy embarks on a quest to find her so she can save her friends and her home.

As David explains, he had plenty of inspiration. 'A lot of people don't realise that L Frank Baum, who wrote the Wizard of Oz, wrote 13 other books about Oz. They were phenomenally successful in the early years of the 20th century and I've taken ideas from about six of them.

'I've mingled them all together and sprinkled a bit of fairy dust over the top.'

David has a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on to the students – he's worked in theatre and television and has also written for both.

Educated in Worcester, he trained as an actor at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic.

'I did an awful lot of drama at school and I was in various am dram groups in Worcester,' he says. 'After the Bristol Old Vic. I set up my own company, touring a one-man show about Shakespeare.'

He was a guest tutor and director at the Birmingham School of Speech and Drama and at Mountview and Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools.

It was an advert in the industry bible The Stage that caught his eye and brought him to Norwich.

'And 22 years later, here I still am,' he says.

The arts course had been running for a few years when David arrived and had around 150 students.

'It was fairly small – there were probably about 150 students. It had been running very successfully for a number of years. Now it's about four times the size.'

As well as the junior course, which has around 400 students, there are also adult courses.

The junior course's summer production alternates between the Theatre Royal, where students get to make use of the technical wizardry available, and Norwich Playhouse where they get to experience the buzz of playing in a more intimate space.

The courses have input from other industry professionals, and one of the most important things that David tries to do is instill a strong work ethic in the students.

'We try to push the kids. It's not just a fun thing to do on a Saturday. The harder you work, the more you get out of it,' he says.

In the last two decades David has directed more than 150 productions, as well as writing several musicals specifically for the junior theatre arts course productions.

He was director of the Norwich Cathedral 900th anniversary production Fire From Heaven and has written and appeared in the pantomimes Jack and the Beanstalk, Babes in the Wood and Aladdin for the Theatre Royal.

The junior arts course's recent musical shows have included Dodger, Sinbad the Sailor, which starred Sam Claflin, Hercules the Musical and Robinson Crusoe.

'Sam was last on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage in Sinbad the Sailor four years ago. There may well be young people in Dorothy who you will see in the West End in four years' time,' says David.

'The arts course has been a springboard for many students to go on to work with a wide range of companies. It just goes to show what a wealth of talent we have on our doorstep,' he says.