Face to face with Simon Thompson

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Paston College expressive arts teacher Simon Thompson, who last month directed his first professional production at Sheringham Little Theatre.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Paston College expressive arts teacher Simon Thompson, who last month directed his first professional production at Sheringham Little Theatre. Entitled Snakes and Ladders and written by Eric Chappell of Rising Damp fame, the play went down a treat with north Norfolk theatre-goers - and Simon received the ultimate accolade when he discovered there was a celebrity guest in the audience(see “My proudest moment”, below). . .

Originally from Stoke on Trent, Simon got the acting bug as a teenager and first appeared on stage performing a Marcel Marceau-style mime in a 6th form revue, with other roles including a one-legged Tarzan.

After leaving school, he worked in theatre bars, on building sites, and as a driver, before joining amateur theatre company the Newcastle Players as a set builder.

The group then began offering Simon acting roles and, bitten by the theatre bug for the second time, in 1986, he applied for a place at East 15 Acting School in North London.

He graduated in 1989 and went on to spend the following 10 years as a professional actor, with regional repertory tours including playing at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, the Wakefield Opera House and the Joan Plowright Theatre, Scunthorpe.

In 1990, he met future wife Debbie when the pair appeared together at Sheringham Little Theatre - where Debbie is now theatre director - during the venue's renowned summer repertory season.

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The couple were married in Debbie's home village of Honing in 1995 and, after spending a couple of years in London, they moved to Cambridge when Simon took a job as a bookseller with Waterstone's.

He was promoted to store manager at Kings Lynn within 12 months, but keen to use his acting skills again, he decided to enrol on a graduate teacher training programme.

After working at Sheringham High School while training, Simon taught drama at the Hewett School, Norwich, before taking a job as expressive arts teacher at Paston College in 2003.

As well as teaching acting skills and media and performance studies, Simon directs for the college's own theatre company, Far East, which was set up in the 1980s by deputy principal Rob John and expressive arts head Mandy McKenna.

The company stages 3 plays a year at Paston, also performing at Norfolk venues including the Norwich Playhouse and Sheringham Little Theatre.

Simon, Debbie and their children Katie, 10, and Sam, 8, live at Knapton.

What is the best thing about your job?

Working with young people and, hopefully, having a positive effect. They have so much enthusiasm and energy and it is great hearing their ideas and seeing them develop.

And the worst?

They say hell is other people, but my idea of hell is paperwork. I understand the purpose of it, but I find it incredibly tedious.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

An inscribed bible given to my mum when she got married. She wrote her wedding vows in it and it means an awful lot to me.

Where do you go to unwind?

To our lounge to sit and read or listen to music, or for a walk with our dogs, Peggy and Cole - they either get an hour and a half or 20 minutes, depending on how much unwinding I need to do!

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

I love all the old Norfolk pubs along the coast. They have a lot of history, great views and many of them haven't been destroyed by modernisation, which gives them a real sense of time and place.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

I'm pretty happy with my life, so I don't think I'd change anything.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Yes! I think it's a shame that being outrageous is part of being young and you have to be more sensible when you are older. I still have outrageous thoughts though!

What is your greatest achievement?

Having our children, Katie and Sam - although I didn't have much to do with it! I think bringing up children is the most rewarding thing you can do and even if I had all the money in the world, I couldn't equal that sense of achievement.

And your proudest moment?

I felt very proud when the writer of Snakes and Ladders, Eric Chappell, turned up unannounced at the Little Theatre one night. He was really complimentary and said ours was one of the best productions of the play he'd seen. He took the cast out for drinks, then came to see it again and asked to take us out to dinner, which was great as we got to hear some wonderful stories about people like Ronnie Barker and Leonard Rossiter.

Who do you most admire?

My parents, John and Kath, because they lived fast and died young and made an effort to enjoy every day they were alive. Dad had a difficult job as a GP, but he was a really big, popular personality who was the life and soul of the party. Together, he and my mum were a formidable partnership and they had a fantastic impact on me and my brother and sister.

What makes you angry?

Arrogance and people who are inconsiderate.

Favourite film, book and TV programme?

I don't watch much TV, but my favourite film is the Christopher Nolan thriller Memento, and my favourite book is usually the one I'm reading. At the moment, it's Side Effects, by Adam Phillips, which is about psychiatry and the fact that what we say is not necessarily what other people hear.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who's fun and enjoys life.