'Phantom’s patron role is no masquerade'

TV screen grab Platinum Party.

A TV screen grab Platinum Party. - Credit: Supplied by Richard Batson

What has Sheringham Little Theatre got in common with the West End? Director Debbie Thompson explains all in her latest column.

The bright lights of London’s West End may seem a million miles away from the dark skies of north Norfolk.

But here at Sheringham Little Theatre we are proud to have long-standing links with one of the showbiz Mecca’s brightest stars, Killian Donnelly, who is one of our patrons.

Killian is a well-known face to fans of musical theatre – though actually at the moment it’s more like half a face as he is playing the lead role in Phantom of the Opera.

Killian Donnelly as 'The Phantom'.

Killian Donnelly as 'The Phantom'. - Credit: Johan Persson

You may have seen him on the weekend’s BBC Platinum Party at the Palace, during a musicals medley introduced by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.

It was a proud moment for the theatre, having our own West End superstar performing to partygoers and TV viewers.

We first connected with Killian 10 years ago thanks to my daughter Katie after we saw him playing Raoul in Phantom and were impressed with his performance.

Killian Donnelly and Katie Thompson catch up before a performance of Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London.

Killian Donnelly and Katie Thompson catch up before a performance of Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. - Credit: SLT

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She began following Killian on Twitter and discovered he also wrote pantos – so she cheekily messaged him and he agreed to write one for us, which led to two more.

We struck up a friendship and have followed Killian’s meteoric rise to take lead roles in a string of musicals in London and on Broadway – including Billy Elliott, The Commitments, Memphis, Les Miserables and Kinky Boots.

In 2018 we asked him to become our patron and were delighted when he accepted.

Stage Direct in rehearsal.

Stage Direct in rehearsal. - Credit: Barry Parsons

Patrons – our other one is nationally renowned stage and screen actor, and panto dame, Des Barrit – are really important in raising the profile of our theatre, and showing that even our modest little community theatre is part of a bigger performing arts world.

Katie and I recently caught up with Killian for a cuppa before his show at Her Majesty’s Theatre before he went into his two-hour pre-show make-up routine as the Phantom.

He voiced concern for how the Little Theatre coped during the pandemic and expressed delight that we had survived, which not all venues have.

Anna Mudeka as Mama Afrika.

Anna Mudeka as Mama Afrika. - Credit: Gideon Graylyons

Covid hit the industry across the board from the grass roots to the West End but he felt that things are getting back to normal – and he is hoping to pay us a visit when he gets a day off from Phantom duties.

In the meantime you should see his face – all of it – soon in our theatre as a new photo is being done of Killian which will go up on our wall to showcase his patron role. He has signed it saying it is an “incredible honour” to be associated with us. The feeling is mutual!

June sees the action hotting up in our theatre, and we are grateful to local amateur group Stage Direct for making their comedy One O’Clock From The House (June 16-18) a fundraiser for us.

And, building on our pledge to bring more diversity to the stage following our 2020 Rewriting Rural Racism project, we are pleased to showcase the one-woman show of Zimbabwean-born Anna Mudeka. Mama Afrika: Hope Determination and Song (June 22) tells the remarkable life story of South African singer and anti-apartheid campaigner Miriam Makeba, who rose from the townships to global stardom before being forced into exile.

· For more information about shows and tickets please visit www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com or call the box office on 01263 822347.

Pictures

1 Killian Donnelly as the Phantom (credit Johan Persson)

2 Screengrab of the Platinum Party (BBC)

3 Killian and Katie Thompson catch up before the show (credit SLT)

4 Stage Direct in rehearsal (credit Barry Parsons)

5 Anna Mudeka (credit Gideon Graylyons)