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Genevieve Raghu: Opening doors at Maddermarket

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Genevieve Raghu, the new artistic director of Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre tells Eleanor Turney about her hopes and dreams for the venue

Genevieve Raghu has packed a lot of theatrical experience into her 24 years. Since graduating from university in 2009 she has set up her own theatre company (Threepenny Theatre) and secured The Guardian’s Michael Billington as patron. She has also assistant directed or directed opera in Spain and at the Warwick Arts Centre, as well as theatre at the Watermill in Newbury, the Belgrade in Coventry, Norwich Arts Centre, Cox’s Yard in Stratford-upon-Avon and in the West End.

With this sort of track record, the Maddermarket Theatre’s board was not taking as much of a risk as it might first appear when they appointed her as its new artistic director in February. However, she is strikingly young to be taking on so much responsibility and she is well aware that a lot rests of the decisions she makes for the theatre.

The Maddermarket is a 310-seat, mock-Elizabethan theatre in the heart of Norwich and has been used as a church, a market and a school. Raghu says: “There’s a lot of love for this building. But at the moment it’s not reaching out to a broad enough demographic, and that’s a shame when it has the resources it has.”

She describes the wardrobe department as an “Aladdin’s cave”, and is keen to expand the programme and education work. The theatre produces a lot of very commercial drama and has a solid, engaged audience. Raghu wants to shake things up a bit without alienating the core audience: “I want people to open up the brochure and not know what to expect. I want Shakespeare next to Caryl Churchill next to Calderon… I want to present a whole spectrum of theatre. For me – I want to direct a real variety of projects.”

When asked which specific shows she’d like to get her teeth into, she laughs and launched into a breathless list: “I’ve got a huge long list of things I’m thinking about programming. I need to find a balance of theatre that’s going to be commercially viable and bring people in, but also do things that are slightly more of a risk.”

Part of this risk is designed to attract a wider audience to the theatre: “I hope that we’ll extend our audience, increase the number of young people. We should be doing things like I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change [a musical by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts].

“We should be doing some opera, some more children’s theatre, some world theatre – titles people don’t necessarily know but if it’s a great production perhaps they’ll give the next piece of international programming a chance. It’s important to have multidisciplinary work, classical alongside theatre being created today.

“We need to use the fact that we’re a producing house to make theatre for the future – theatre coming from the regions that takes the region as an inspiration. I want to share regionally and nationally, to make people aware that there is this gem in Norwich and attract people to it. This theatre needs to be on the map.”

She is working to bring the theatre to wider attention. Raghu has already brought on board a patron for music, the composer Patrick Hawes who wrote the Highgrove Suite for Prince Charles’s 60th birthday and is Classic FM’s composer-in-residence. Now she is looking for others, including a literary person and film-based person, “so that we have the advice and expertise and endorsement”.

It is clear that she has enthusiasm in abundance for this theatre in the city where she grew up: “There are very few jobs in Norwich in the arts, because although Norwich Theatre Royal is a great space, it’s a commercial receiving house and doesn’t produce its own stuff so there aren’t many artistic creative jobs coming up. This was a job I couldn’t not apply for, though I never thought I’d get it. Norwich is a city I care about; it’s my home, and the idea of being able to steer the creative vision of a theatre in my home city was too good to be true.”

Despite this, it wasn’t necessarily the most obvious next step. “I was asked at my second interview if I wanted to commit to coming back to Norwich for three years… leaving the career I was building in London… but the chance to steer the creative vision of such a special theatre was one I didn’t think twice about.”

Several weeks into the job and she is unequivocal that she has made the right, if exhausting, decision: “The Maddermarket is my heart and soul now, and that means sharing it with as many artists as possible – I’m welcoming people with open arms.

“I’m doing my best to nurture talent – this is a theatre where careers can start. There’s a chance to do things on every level. There is an open door.”

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