LOOKING out on the beautiful views from Theatr Clwyd it’s easy to see why working there could inspire even the most tired and overworked of minds.
“There’s something about this landscape and place that draws you in,” says artistic director Tamara Harvey, gesturing at the Clwydian Hills as we take our seats in the bar.
“It felt like somewhere I could make a difference and take the theatre to its next stage.”
Almost exactly a year into her first spell of programming, Tamara is able to look back on her time at Theatr Clwyd with a great deal of satisfaction as the theatre unveils its list of productions for the rest of the year.
Highlights are many and varied from the world première of Jack Thorne’s Junkyard, a new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and the Brexit-inspired My Country; A Work In Progress.
Come September, a new adaptation of Chekhov’s comedy Uncle Vanya will be performed in the round, directed by Tamara herself.
“I think the most important thing is that everyone who comes here should feel there is something for them,” says Tamara.
“There isn’t always going to be something for everyone all the time, but I want people to look across the season and feel like at some point we’re speaking to them.”
Born in Botswana 40 years ago, Tamara’s journey to North Wales saw her become one of the hardest-working and most diverse freelance directors on the circuit, with credits stretching from Shakespeare’s Globe to the West End.
Her first major productions as director were the all-female Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe, the first UK tour of The Graduate and as co-director with Terry Johnson of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Christian Slater, Frances Barber and Mackenzie Crook.
But it was the chance to run her own theatre which prompted Tamara and her husband to move from London to Mold and step into the sizeable shoes of the theatre’s previous artistic director Terry Hands whose 17 years in the post helped turn the theatre into one of the most successful in Wales.
“I love making theatre and I’ve been doing it for 20 years, but the thing that really excited me about coming here was that the theatre has the potential to absolutely become a thriving hub at the centre of people’s lives,” she says.
“When regional theatres work it’s because that’s what they are – they’re the place people go for a drink, the place you bring friends to when they’re visiting for the weekend, the place where you go when you want to work quietly with a coffee and that’s the kind of place we want this to be.”
As a result, trying new things and encouraging new audiences to visit the theatre is key to Tamara’s vision of an inclusive and inspiring arts-focused building that is a centre of the community it serves with last winter’s ice rink a perfect example.
“The ice rink was great and over 50 per cent of the people who came to have a go were first time visitors,” she enthuses.
“We have a new cafe, a new folk and roots night and I want to say to people ‘this is your home’.
“If there’s a night when they decide not to sit on the sofa I want them to come here.”
Maintaining the loyal audience cultivated over many years remains important too and a recent mail shot encouraging fans of the theatre to send in their memories saw more than 700 regular visitors reply in less than an hour.
“There was one note where someone wrote ‘I remember leaning against a pillar during the drought of ‘76 and meeting my man’,” laughs Tamara.
“This building is full of memories and there are people who have a really strong connection to it.
“It’s also a place where you can ask questions – theatres should provide a space where you can talk about the big questions.
“You can do that around the kitchen table, but they’ve become dangerous places too – sometimes we can’t talk about the big things in our homes.
“Theatre is becoming increasingly important as fewer people go to church and I know that sounds like a massive statement, but it’s in our DNA that we need places where we can come together and tell stories and understand more about humanity.
“We don’t do that in church any more and that’s where theatres can step up and provide those shared moments with the family.”
When I ask Tamara for a few of her theatrical highlights from the last year or so, she grins as if she’s about to reel off a long list.
“You know when you have the holiday of a lifetime and you come back and people ask you how was it and you realise you can only pick one thing?
“It’s been momentous and life-changing and there has been loads of things I’ve got wrong and some stuff I got right.
“I remember walking in through the front doors just before the last night of the Nutcracker and there were a couple leaving and they stopped me to tell me they’d just dropped their daughters off to see it for the fourth time.
“They’d come to the first performance and loved it so much they’d pooled their pocket money and got tickets to come three more times.
“They’d written cards to the cast and poems about all the characters and that’s a highlight for me because you think there’s two little girls who will become young women who will hopefully always have a love of theatre and know this is somewhere they can come and be silly and make friends. It was pretty extraordinary.”
Another factor that makes Tamara’s last 12 months so momentous is the fact she’s managed it all as a new mum after the birth of her baby early in 2016.
It can’t have been easy, I suggest.
“This is the first time I’ve run a theatre and I’d lived in London for 15 years,” she says.
“My husband had moved over from the USA three years before and he was just getting used to living here so it was a massive thing for us as a couple.
“We also lived a minute away from my mum and dad and my brother so leaving was a big wrench and then just after I got the job I found out I was pregnant and it was a really difficult moment.
“You sound either smug or insane if you talk about having a baby in any way that is actually true to the experience – the lovely things are that she wakes up and we open the curtains and there are sheep outside and coming in here is completely natural to her.
“I’ve moved my husband and I to a totally new place and it’s hard because we’re here for my job.
“He’s a brilliant composer and voice over artist and it’s helped that we’ve worked together here at the theatre which is only six minutes away.
“He travels back to London a lot and has got very familiar with Virgin Trains, but he’s a remarkable human being.
“Most of the time I feel like I’m failing at all three jobs – as a mum, a wife and an artistic director – and just occasionally you feel you might be doing all-right at one of them and they’re the moments you cling to.”
As she prepares to depart I ask Tamara about the future and how long she sees herself in Mold.
“I once read someone say an artistic director should stay no less than five years and no more than 10 and I kind of think that’s right,” she adds.
“It’s taken me a year to find my way around the building, but you can see now the little changes we’re beginning to make are making a difference, but now I feel like I’m just scraping the surface.”
See full story in the Leader