Karen’s Royal appointment

Karen Simpson and Liz Craven in Sheffield
Karen Simpson and Liz Craven in Sheffield

This autumn Karen Simpson expected to be concentrating on the national tour of a new play, Twelve Miles From Nowhere, which she was to direct for her own production company.

Instead she will be taking up a new job running the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds .

The appointment in Suffolk came on the very point she and her husband were about to relocate from Sheffield to the South Coast.

“It all happened very quickly,” she explains. “Within days of being interviewed I heard I had got the job just as we were on the point of exchanging contracts on a house. We had chosen Eastbourne on a bit of a whim so to be suddenly heading down the A14 to come to another lovely part of the world was not a big deal. It’s very exciting for me.”

She will be responsible for one of the oldest and most beautiful venues in the country, the Grade 1 last surviving Regency theatre which was refurbished in 2007 in a £5.3m restoration project.

Simpson will oversee a programme which is a mix of tours and in-house productions and co-productions, starting in the New Year. She says the repertoire has tended to reflect its Georgian heritage and she is keen to engage with the next generation of theatregoers with a more wide-ranging programme including contemporary work and children’s theatre.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity, I have always wanted to run my own theatre,” she says. “I will be both artistic director and chief executive and will take as my inspiration Grahame Morris. His management style at Sheffield Theatres is something I would like to emulate.

“It’s not going to be an easy ride. It gets some funding from local authorities and the Arts Council whose grant is very small compared with most theatres and I have got to try and change that somehow.”

Simpson was creative development director and education director for Sheffield Theatres and later helped found Action Transport Theatre in Cheshire. Last year she set up Karen Simpson Productions to tour new British drama to audiences across the UK, starting in Olympic year with The Incredible Doctor Guttmann about the man who laid the foundations of the Paralympics.

With her co-producer, Liz Craven, who is also ex-Sheffield Theatres, she set up a national tour of a Twelve Miles From Nowhere, a play originally developed by Action Transport based on research with young people growing up in rural Cheshire.

“The tour is still happening with Andrew Breakwell taking over as director but I will still very much be involved as I don’t go full-time in Bury until October,” says Simpson.

Starting in September it has dates at the Civic, Barnsley, and the Pomegranate, Chesterfield, and also public performances at Tapton and High Storrs schools.