Meet the owners
Founded in 1936 by John Maynard Keynes, Cambridge ArtsTheatre has launched the careers of a host of stars, fromStephen Fry to Emma Thompson. Here, Chief Executive DaveMurphy explains its enduring appeal
What brought you to Cambridge Arts Theatre?
I arrived in 2003 and fell in love with working in the theatre, which is why I’m still here 18 years later! I’d spent 15 years buying up underperforming companies and turning them around so I was very much a businessperson, but I loved the arts and wanted to use my skillset to work on something long-term and charitable that would be there long after I’d gone.
Why do you think Cambridge Arts Theatre is so loved by the community?
So many people in and around Cambridge have been to the theatre at various times in their life. We have customers from three years of age to people in their late 90s. People like the different types of productions we put on, the feeling of the theatre, and what we stand for, so we have a lot of lifelong friends.
What’s been the highlight of your time at the theatre?
I think it was Dame Trott’s Panto Palaver last year. To be able to pull everybody together and bust a gut to get that production on in the middle of Covid, was fantastic, and the audience loved it. Coming after such a gruesome time for theatre, it put the message across that theatre is important, even in the midst of a pandemic. The theatre has played host to an awesome line-up of famous folk.
Do you have a favourite?
The most memorable was Ian McKellen when he did his one-man show here. It was a magnificent achievement for him to go around the country on his 80th birthday and he donated all the proceeds to the theatres. He had such a deep affection for the Arts Theatre, stemming back to his time at the University. He cried when he went on stage – and he wasn’t the only one.
Which three productions have been your favourites?
Florian Zeller’s The Father, with Ken Cranham in the lead role, was magnificent! It was confusing, disorientating and of course you realised it was about someone coming down with Alzheimer’s. It was incredibly moving for the audience.
Mary Stuart, which had Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams alternating the roles of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, adapted by Robert Icke, was utterly fantastic. In fact, I went to see it four times the week it was here!
One that will always stay with me was David Haig in the play about James Stagg, the weatherman tasked with predicting the weather for the D-Day Landings. That was an enormous success for us and went on to have a big West End run.
Your pantomime has become iconic in Cambridge. Why is that?
It’s successful because it is fundamentally about family. It’s about watching it when you are three, and still going when you are 80! It’s a family inclusive storytelling event which is utterly unique to British theatre. Our panto is very old fashioned and takes people on a journey; is Cinderella going to make it the ball? Is Aladdin going to get out of the cave? This will be my 16th pantomime at the Arts Theatre. Last year we were restricted by public health regulations and the size of the company, but this year I’m going for it with Aladdin. There’s going to be kids, a full team of dancers and it’ll be the usual spectacular Cambridge panto!
What are you looking forward to this season?
The Dresser, with Julian Clary and Matthew Kelly, which is a wonderful story of life backstage in a theatre. It’ll also be lovely to have Dame Penny Keith back in Two Cigarettes in the Dark. She’s not been here for eight years and she is a real character. We are co-producing the play too, so it means a lot.
We’ve also got a new version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, adapted by David Icke, which I’m hoping will be very popular with the schools.
What’s your dream for the theatre?
We have to do up our auditorium as it is 25 years old – and looking it! In the longer term I’d like to create a studio theatre where our old restaurant used to be and build on our incredible team, so perhaps when I do go, we have a really strong, vibrant, long-term healthy institution.
Cambridge Arts Theatre is at 6 St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge. Visit cambridgeartstheatre.com
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Picture credit: Martin Bond
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