For 20 years one woman has been creating more than her fair share of drama at The Maltings, and audiences are more than happy for it to continue.
The Maltings Youth Theatre recently marked two decades in showbusiness with a glittering production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Putting young actors through their paces, once again, was Berwick’s very own queen of theatre, Wendy Payn. Her 1994 production of ‘Dracula’ got the group up and running, and the head of youth drama has not looked back since.
I’ve been reviewing Wendy’s shows for less than half of the time the youth theatre has been in existence. Like many, I’ve had the pleasure of taking in top-drawer productions like ‘West Side Story’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘His Dark Materials’ and been blown away by what she has achieved.
Plenty of others have been impressed. Her most recent leading lady, Katie Hindmarsh, who hit the high notes as Christine in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, is full of admiration.
“She really is an inspiration,” Katie enthuses.“She sees things in people that no one else can see and is fantastic at building confidence. I am massively grateful to her for all of the opportunities she’s given me.”
Playing opposite Katie as the Phantom was Wendy’s son Oliver, who has a great deal of respect for her, not just as a mum, but as a director. “I’m really proud of what she has done with the youth theatre so far,” he says. “She’s directed me in every show that I’ve done and the notes she gives are so important.”
The Maltings artistic director, Matthew Rooke, is full of praise for everything Wendy does for the theatre.
He commented: “To many people Wendy simply is The Maltings. Anyone who saw ‘Phantom of The Opera’ will know that the quality of work that she brings out of the talent within our community makes one question whether the divisions of professional or amateur; youth or adult are really relevant to use as a short hand for quality.
“So, here is to seeing how much further Wendy can take things over the next 20 years!”
Matthew’s predecessor Miles Gregory also believes it is impossible to place a value on all the work Wendy does for The Maltings and the area as a whole.
He says: “Wendy is an inspirational and extremely talented teacher and director. Literally thousands of young people have benefitted from her tireless and selfless dedication to creating magical performances on stage, and she has consistently brought the best out of her students and colleagues through her supremely positive attitude and ‘can-do’ spirit.”
One of the talents Wendy nurtured is Tideline Runners’ Robert Wilkinson, who is now carving out a reputation as a fine writer and director in his own right, but attributes his passion for the theatre to the woman who has guided him through countless productions.
“If it wasn’t for Wendy I don’t think I would have the guts to do what I’m doing today,” he explains. “I wouldn’t be writing and there certainly wouldn’t be a Tideline Runners Theatre Company. She is a real inspiration who has total respect for her actors and her crew- be they seasoned pro’s or six year-old running wild on a cocktail of sweets and cola.
“The real testament to Wendy’s talent is how many people go back. I left the youth theatre officially in 2001 after The Crucible but I can never quite escape the gravitational pull.
“I’ve been asked back on numerous occasions and it’s always the easiest ‘yes’ I can ever give.”