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Norwich theatre director talks about his new role

PUBLISHED: 11:48 17 January 2011

Stephen Picton, the new Director of Productions at The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Stephen Picton, the new Director of Productions at The Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010

Stephen Picton director of productions at the Maddermarket Theatre talks to Emma Knights about his new role

“Theatre has always excited me, and the Maddermarket Theatre is like nowhere else I have ever worked. It is a fantastic place – a fascinating theatre with a unique history,” said new director of productions Stephen Picton, who is joining the theatre as it celebrates both the 100th anniversary of the Maddermarket’s resident company and the 90th anniversary of the theatre building.

For 42-year-old Mr Picton, who has spent the last nine years as the editor of Car Magazine, in Croydon, his new role at the Maddermarket is a welcome return to performance work.

Mr Picton, who lives near Bungay with his wife, Elizabeth, 30, was a professional actor and freelance writer and director before starting his own Tunbridge Wells-based touring company, Vivid Theatre. For five years the company performed the likes of Chekhov, Ibsen and Shakespeare until Mr Picton turned to journalism.

Now, nine years later, he is delighted to be back in a playhouse and is relishing juggling the artistic challenges along with another new role – as a dad to his new son, Gideon.

“I love theatre. It is my natural environment and it is fantastic being back in a theatre,” he said.

“The most exciting thing about the Maddermarket is the fact that they do 12 shows a year so they can do the crowd-pleasers like the Agatha Christie plays but they can also afford to do the more artistic shows.

“I am going from directing the Christmas show for children, The BFG, to Oleanna by David Mamet – an American drama that is a very tense piece of work. The great excitement of this place is the variety. You cannot imagine having such variety anywhere else.”

Having joined the theatre in September, The BFG, the Roald Dahl classic about the Big Friendly Giant, was Mr Picton’s Maddermarket directorial debut.

“It was certainly a challenge because of the obvious technical issues – in the original production they used a 24ft high animatronic giant and we obviously could not do that,” he said.

“We had to think of a clever way to get round that. We went through a number of ideas and I was really pleased and proud of the result. I think it was a beautiful production which celebrated the art of storytelling. It was almost a play within a play – with a group of girls in an orphanage telling the story of the BFG.”

Now Mr Picton faces different challenges as rehearsals get under way for Oleanna which is being performed in February.

“I am really looking forward to Oleanna. It is a wonderfully exciting play,” he said. “It is a two-hander, an American play about a university professor and a female student who accuses him of sexual harassment which could end his career.

“It was a very, very provocative play when it came out in the 1990s. It is antagonistic. It is uncomfortable – but in the right theatrical way.

“It is about notions of political correctness, and if we do the right job you cannot remain passive when you watch the show.”

Later in the year Mr Picton will also be directing a self-penned show called Hundred Years Wonder which he is writing especially to celebrate the theatre and the company’s special anniversaries in 2011.

The show’s name is inspired by the Elizabethan actor Will Kemp’s famous Morris dance from London to Norwich which Kemp called his Nine Days Wonder. It will feature famous faces of the past including Shakespeare, Will Kemp and Maddermarket Theatre founder Walter Nugent Bligh Monck – along with past and present members of the Maddermarket who want to be involved in the show.

Mr Picton, who moved to Suffolk a couple of years ago when his wife got a job as a GP in Gorleston, said: “We have only lived here for two years but we quickly thought Norwich was a fantastic and an exciting place to be with a surprising amount of art and culture.

“There is so much history and contemporary arts in Norwich, and the Maddermarket is the same – it has the excitement of the here and now and also the history.”

Mr Picton said he was extremely excited to be taking on the role of director of productions just before such important milestones, and he spoke of his enthusiastic ambitions to continue the high artistic standards of this unique Norwich institution.

To find out more about the Maddermarket Theatre and its programme of shows visit www.maddermarket.co.uk

Anybody interested in joining the Maddermarket Theatre should visit the venue in St John’s Alley or call 01603 626560.

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