How childhood trips to a Norwich theatre led to an international career for producer Richard Jordan
PUBLISHED: 12:04 24 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:11 24 January 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
A love of the stage sparked by childhood trips to Norwich Theatre Royal led to an award-winning international career for producer Richard Jordan. Arts correspondent Emma Knights speaks to him about growing up in Norfolk, his career highlights to date, and his views on the county’s cultural scene.
From touring the globe with a show about Charles Dickens’ women to staging the Olivier Award-winning play Roadkill, theatre producer Richard Jordan has been behind more than 215 shows at venues worldwide - but there will always be one theatre that is particularly special to him.
That venue is Norwich Theatre Royal, where Richard first had his eyes opened to the world of the stage.
The Olivier, Tony and Emmy Award-winning producer, who grew up in Cringleford and who recently enjoyed a trip back to the Theatre Royal, said: “Without the Theatre Royal I wouldn’t have ended up doing the career I’ve ended up doing in theatre. It began coming here as a child, being brought by my mum and dad when I was about eight and really this was my classroom...One week I could see Annie the musical, the next week I could see Royal Shakespeare Company. The first show I ever saw here was Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, a big touring musical...the variety of this theatre was the greatest gift I could have ever had growing up.”
Richard, now 43, went on to work in numerous stage and theatre management roles – including with Alan Ayckbourn, Michael Codron and the National Theatre - before setting up Richard Jordan Productions in 1998.
Shylock, performed at London’s Hampstead Theatre and in Germany and New York, was the company’s first show, and since then Richard has produced a vast and eclectic mix of productions, ranging from a hip-hop retelling of Othello with Chicago Shakespeare Theater to UK tours of Alan Bennett’s Lady in the Van.
The Stage newspaper has described Richard as “one of the UK’s most prolific producers” and also named him in The Stage’s Top 100 UK Theatre Professionals list seven times.
Richard, who credits watching weird and wonderful acts at Norwich Arts Centre as a teenager as helping to inspire his love of all types of performance, said: “I’m happy producing an Alan Bennett play or a play I’m doing on Broadway but I’m also just as happy doing an off the wall work that might be in a site-specific or found space. The question in choosing to produce something is do you believe the work to be good...The other big skill of a producer is where you place that show because the placement is as important as finding the right play...Not everything should necessarily play London, not everything should necessarily tour.”
When asked about some of his biggest show highlights, Richard said: “On a big scale, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which was a play I co-produced in New York in 2013. That was by Christopher Durang, it starred Sigourney Weaver. We won a Tony Award, so that was really special. As a child you read about and watch on TV those award ceremonies and think, ‘wouldn’t that be exciting’.”
The show also won every other Best Play award and this, along with accolades from previous shows, led to Richard becoming the first British producer to receive every notable Best Play award on and off Broadway.
Reflecting on a couple more highlights, Richard said: “I’ve always produced a lot of work that has strong social or political context. I was involved in producing Roadkill which was about sex trafficking, a very tough subject, but a really important play to produce. We did the show in Scotland, Paris and London, and in the US where sex trafficking is a huge issue, particularly in Chicago where we played...and that went on to win an Olivier Award.
“And then I suppose Dickens’ Women, which was a play I did with Miriam Margolyes that I brought to Norwich Playhouse as part of its world tour. We did it for the Charles Dickens’ bicentenary celebrations in 2012. It was a play that (former Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive) Peter Wilson – who had been a great mentor and inspired and encouraged me as I started in theatre – had produced originally, and Peter and I produced it together for the 2012 tour. And that felt like it was going in some way in a full circle, coming back home.
“Those were three real highlights but you are only ever as good as the last thing you produced and life in the theatre is all about what you are doing next.”
And Richard has lots happening next. Us/Them, a co-production with Belgian group BRONKS looking at how young people respond to terrorism, and which had a sell-out season at the National Theatre, is now on stage in America before touring to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Meanwhile BigMouth, a mash-up of speeches throughout history, is being performed in Iran, and Freeze!, a show featuring one of the world’s greatest rock balancers, is off to Adelaide Festival in March.
Richard is also looking for ward to returning to Norfolk later this year to bring three shows to Holt Festival.
Despite now living in London with his wife Tammy, Richard has always been keen to stay connected to Norfolk’s arts scene, including by being a patron of the Theatre Royal’s 250 refurbishment appeal and a Norwich Playhouse patron.
He joked one of his biggest highlights was being a question in one of Keith Skipper’s EDP quizzes.
Just last year he was presented with an Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award at the Norfolk Arts Awards.
“I’ve been fortunate to have won a few awards for the work I’ve done in the theatre but that one was really pretty special because you can go but you can never leave Norfolk. All my family are here,” he said, adding the mix of people at the ceremony highlighted the vibrancy of the county’s cultural scene.
“There’s so much creativity going on...I think Norfolk today is in a really great artistic place. I feel a lot of joy when I come back here,” said Richard, adding Norwich was lucky to have a smorgasbord of venues and that the local amateur dramatics community was “one of the most vibrant in the country.”
Richard was previously a patron of Norwich’s UK City of Culture 2013 bid, and when asked if the city should apply for UK City of Culture 2025, he said: “What have we got to lose? With the UK City of Culture it was not just simply the winning, which of course would have been nice, it was the taking part. You build an awareness, so I think every time you do go for something like that, you pull a lot of communities together...Theatre is all about cultural collisions. You want to create cultural collisions in the arts so people collide with each other, because out of that comes great ideas.”
THREE THOUGHTS ON THEATRE
Richard Jordan on what he most loves about theatre: “I really like working with creative people, there’s something really exciting about going on a journey together and when you do a show you all take a leap of faith because you don’t quite know exactly where it’s going.”
On the most important seat in the house: “The most important row of a theatre is the back row of the balcony because that is where you are going to end up with the young person who...is seeing that first live experience for the first time, and if you get it right you are going to hook them for life.”
On words of wisdom for aspiring producers: “Trust your instincts...Who would have thought a load of cats dancing around on a stage or a musical about Alexander Hamilton would make people want to rush in and see shows...The next great idea is going to come from what seems like a completely bizarre or ridiculous idea and audiences are going to suddenly jump up and say that’s brilliant.”