'Everyone talks to you' - The Bill star on his love of Norfolk and theatre

Actor Graham Cole OBE at Norwich Theatre Royal open day. Picture: Danielle Booden

Actor Graham Cole OBE at the Norwich Theatre Royal Open Day. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Norwich Theatre Royal threw open its doors on Sunday for its annual open day - the first to be held since the start of the pandemic.

Hundreds of visitors got the chance to take to the stage and see behind the scenes of the venue and children and adults alike couldn't wait to try on costumes from their favourite pantomimes.

Graham Cole OBE, best known for his role as PC Tony Stamp in ITV's The Bill, was among the attendees, and he has become a familiar face in Norfolk since moving here a year ago.

Actor Graham Cole OBE at Norwich Theatre Royal open day. Picture: Danielle Booden

Actor Graham Cole OBE at Norwich Theatre Royal Open Day - Credit: Danielle Booden

For the veteran actor, it is the sense of community that makes the county and its biggest theatre so special.

"In London, nobody talks to you but here everyone does, it's very special," he said. "People love being here, there is a real sense of community. 

"At the Theatre Royal it is the same, it feels like family here and people are so welcoming.

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

"When we are shopping in the city we often pop into the café and we love to visit the restaurant. It's fantastic."

Mr Cole has performed in 40 pantomimes in his career and was part of the cast in Dick Whittington and His Cat in 2021 at the Theatre Royal.

He said: "Playing the baddie is the best role and it's great to hear a chorus of boos from the audience. 

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"But whatever you're doing if you can make people laugh they'll remember it.

"Live theatre is a bit like watching motor racing, you never know what might happen and even when things go wrong it's still lots of fun.

"Covid has had a big impact on the theatre industry so it's really important that audiences show their support.

Norwich Theatre Royal open day. Picture: Danielle Booden

Norwich Theatre Royal Open Day - Credit: Danielle Booden

"There is nowhere else you can have these moments."

While the pandemic heavily impacted the theatre industry, it also prompted an opportunity to get creative with how venues can engage with the local community. 

This year the Theatre Royal has expanded its annual open day programme into a week-long family festival, offering a series of events and workshops.

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

From African drumming to a poetry picnic, there is lots to see and do between Tuesday, July 26, and Friday, July 27.  

CEO Stephen Crocker said: "This year we wanted to do things differently and throw open the doors to people.

"The pandemic forced us to become a theatre without a theatre, which made us get creative and find new ways of being impactful and supporting the community as much as we can.

Norwich Theatre Royal CEO Stephen Crocker at the open day event. Picture: Danielle Booden

Norwich Theatre Royal CEO Stephen Crocker at the open day event. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

"We don't want to lose the lessons we learnt from this period so we hope this week offers an opportunity for families to come together.

"When people come to see a show at Theatre Royal, it's not just about the performance, it's about being together sharing an experience with other people."

The theatre was a hive of activity on Sunday with people of all ages enjoying the opportunity to explore the venue.

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden

People enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

Bobby Sharp, 53, has been coming to the theatre for 30 years and has recently taken on a role as a volunteer steward.

He said it was "brilliant" to get a chance to get up on the main stage.

"It's been an absolutely fantastic day, I've loved it all," he said. "The staff are always so friendly and I always feel welcome and included. It's been lovely to see so many people here."

Krishanthi, Bisandi and Meenu enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Bood

Krishanthi, Bisandi and Meenu enjoying the open day at Norwich Theatre Royal. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

The theatre is now back in the swing of things with a full programme of events this year including a series of big musicals and this year's panto - Jack and the Beanstalk.

On October 15, Graham Cole will be taking to the stage at the Playhouse Theatre, where he will be sharing his memories from his 50-year-long career in film, TV and theatre.

The night offers the chance to discover what it's like playing a character for so long but PC Tony Stamp was only one of 160 characters he has played.

Mr Cole added: "Every character you play has to take a little bit of you, even in panto. That's the job and it's a beautiful job indeed."