Stewart lives for the stage

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SOME kids are hooked on football, others are obsessed with music, but Stewart Fairthorne caught the theatre bug when he was a child and has been glued to the stage ever since.

The Watford-born thespian, who has lived in Hemel Hempstead town centre for most of his 29 years, has been acting since he was a pupil at South Hill Primary School near his Cotterells home.

He recalled: “My dad died of cancer when I was nine and that, for whatever reason, triggered something in me.”

Introduced to the Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company by long-standing member Brian Doran, Stewart became one of the first youngsters to join Angie Yeates’ inaugural HHTC youth section in 1994, and it’s been non-stop ever since.

His acting roles have been varied – from Mr Macaroni and the Exploding Pizza Pie where he had to appear without his trousers, to Stalag 69, to A Ring of Roses where the original cast members came to watch.

He’s also directed - debuting with a youth production of John Godber’s Salt of the Earth in 2001 which was featured in the Gazette at the time – above, right – and selling out in 2006 with Jeffrey Archer’s The Accused.

His direction of Mixed Doubles – a collection of shorts by renowned playwrights – was well-received and last year he impressed the National One Act Drama Association judges with a production of A. L. Gurney’s Sylvia.

He tries to incorporate something a little different into every production – be it a revolving stage or successfully flying in bits of set.

He says: “There’s no reason why we can’t bring West End technology into local theatre.”

And Stewart is definitely the man for the job having worked professionally in theatre both in the West End and locally, and knowing the stage of the Boxmoor Playhouse – home to the HHTC – like the back of his hand.

Getting his first West End gig was the culmination of lots of hard work and plenty of begging.

“When I was 16 and at the end of year ball down at Dacorum Pavilion I wasn’t really into dancing so I went to chat to the guys up in the lighting box and pleaded with them to give me a chance to do some work there.

“That’s how I got a job doing lots of touring shows and all sorts of crazy things where I met people who then took me on doing corporate gigs.”

As a result he quickly learned all the different skills – including lighting, stage management and sound – necessary for theatre work so when a friend of his landed a job on Phantom of the Opera and suggested Stewart apply too, he was hired.

He spent 21/2 years as a follow spot operator and stage electrician on Phantom before going over to the Haymarket, as well as working in regional theatre.

Ill health which was only finally diagnosed relatively recently as Crohn’s Disease stalled his career.

But now well on the road to recovery following a successful operation, Stewart virtually lives at the Boxmoor Playhouse in one of his latest theatre roles as part of the HHTC’s new management committee.

And he’s delighted to be back at the heart of the company which has made such a difference to his life.

“All through secondary school I was teased a lot because I had glasses and a round face and was quite chubby.

“Then I started doing drama and had to perform a piece in front of my year and suddenly I’m getting the cool guys coming up saying that’s really good.”

“The company are my adopted family. I spent my 18th birthday with a huge group of them and we always get together and do stuff.”

And what are Stewart’s hopes and aims for the future of the HHTC?

He says: “My main goal is to do away with the perception that amateur is poorly built sets, poorly acted in a small town hall, and generally bad quality.

“I want to prove that amateur theatre can be as good as anything you would pay good money to go and see.”

The company are already part of the RSC Open Stages Project which aims to help professionals learn from amateurs and vice versa and Stewart has plenty of other plans to ensure it continues to thrive in an increasingly difficult environment.

Keeping young people interested is one of his key priorities and as such he is committed to finding new plays which are challenging, relevant and modern.

He’s also looking at ways to incorporate new writing, rarely performed in amateur theatre, and is in discussion with the Court Theatre in Tring about the possibility of working together on projects in the future.

A strong presence on Facebook where you can watch their film trailer for latest production Wyrd Sisters, and also on Twitter, and with a new look planned for the website by the end of the year, Stewart is determined to secure the future of the company for the community.

The HHTC’s production of Wyrd Sisters is at the Boxmoor Playhouse, 72 St John’s Road, Hemel Hempstead from Wednesday, May 23 to Saturday, May 26.

Call 01442 234004 for tickets or go online at www.boxmoorplayhouse.co.uk.