April 29, 2024

Your votes needed to help director Debbie win top arts award

Theatre director Debbie Thompson, now in her 22nd year at Sheringham, has been nominated for a lifetime achievement accolade at the annual Norfolk Arts Awards.

But she needs your help to lift the prize she undoubtedly deserves for the countless hours of commitment she has given to the theatre.

She talked to theatre trustee and journalist Richard Batson about a career that has ranged from being a primary school show impresario to acting in the West End, and returning to her native North Norfolk where she met husband on stage and brought up two children who have followed in their theatrical footsteps.

But first please make a note to vote for Debbie before the deadline at 5pm Friday May 31 by visiting https://norfolkartsawards.org/vote/

Finalists will be announced in July and the winners awarded their prizes in the autumn.

Here are Debbie’s career highlights:

Debbie was born in Oswestry but moved to Honing when she was five – attending the village primary school, North Walsham High School for Girls, City College and then Loughborough University for a degree in drama.

Here earliest shows were staging Friday entertainments for parents at primary school, where she enjoyed performing and “bossing people about”

Her mum Liz was a big drama fan and took her to the theatre – including her first serious play Tess of the D’Urbevilles at Sheringham Little Theatre which ignited a spark to act.

Debbie took ballet and elocution lessons aged eight and did amateur shows with players in Mundesley and Stalham. She also joined the cast of the Fossick Valley Fumblers where as a 14-year-old she played a “passionate woman” in a farce at the Edinburgh Fringe.

After qualifying at Drama Studio in London she spent 10 years as a professional actor in the West End. Her biggest part was as villainous Lieutenant Smith in Vaclav Havel’s Temptation where she worked alongside Sylvester McCoy and Rula Lenska.

TV work also saw her as a victim in BBC Crimewatch where she had the perk of “driving a brand new Porsche around London.”

She met husband Simon at Sheringham Little Theatre when they were thrown together in the cast of the 1992 summer season cast doing Trap for a Lonely Man, but for the first five years of marriage they continued their acting careers and spent a lot of time in different parts of the country.


They both decided to train as teachers and they moved to Norfolk to start and raise a family – with Simon tutoring drama at Paston College in North Walsham, and Debbie joining the Little Theatre as a youth outreach officer, then rising up the ranks to part-time then full-time director.

Her involvement has cascaded down to the whole family with Simon directing farces at the venue, and daughter Katie and son Sam, now 26 and 24, having had their first taste as young gangsters in Bugsy Malone when they were six and four.

Katie has recently gained an MA in directing and is carving her own theatre career, while Sam is in his second year at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school. Last year Katie directed her mum on a rare return to the stage when an 11th hour cast illness had to be filled in a production of Season’s Greetings, when tee-total Debbie played tipsy Phyllis in the farce.

Debbie said: “My career has flown by. There’s never a dull moment and I truly get up every morning excited about going to work. The hours are long but it’s a vocation and I love it – never thinking of it as a chore.

“I am at my happiest on the first day of a production when everybody meets and you see the play you planned start coming together

“The Little Theatre has really grown in my time here with more shows, more variety, a mix of professional and amateur shows and many more visitors.”

Other highlights include an “evening with” Monty Python star Michael Palin and the more recent coup of Vigil star Suranne Jones agreeing to be theatre president, adding to the venue’s kudos and publicity.

Even the challenges of Covid, which closed some theatres, was “enjoyed” by Debbie who relished having the shackles of normal business thrown off to try some new work including original writing, and community productions.

But she stressed the success was down to the team effort of the venue’s small staff and band of loyal volunteers – plus her family.

“I remember one Christmas Eve panto when everyone was sick I did Front of House, Simon ran the bar, and our children were ushers!” she recalled.

Debbie’s influence is also felt in the wider arts scene, as a major advocate of outreach and particularly youth work.

Since 2016 Debbie has also been involved with St George’s Theatre at Great Yarmouth, initially as a consultant and then part-time director, which has built up a sisterly synergy between the two venues sharing ideas and productions.

Sheringham Little Theatre was runner-up in a National Lottery award for an inter-generational project which brought young people together with old folk who they taught to rap!

The venue already has a hat trick of Norfolk Arts Awards – winning the Best Theatre title when they started in 2012, then being chosen as the best small organisation award in the 2016 and 2019.

Debbie says she is “surprised and honoured“ to be nominated for the lifetime achievement category which is decided by a public vote for the first time. Now it’s over to you to help her win it by clicking here > https://norfolkartsawards.org/vote/

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