As the curtain closed on this year’s Pantomime at the Theatre Royal Wakefield, it was also the last act for Murray Edwards.
Mr Edwards took his final curtain call as he retired after 18 years as the theatre’s Executive Director
And during the past 12 years he has seen audiences double for the theatre’s annual panto, from 15,000 to almost 30,000.
But he says it’s thanks to his team that the theatre is highly respected across the North of England. He said: “It has been an enormous privilege to lead the theatre for the past 18 years.
“I have worked in the performing arts for more than 45 years and my time in Wakefield has been both rewarding and challenging.
“The theatre is one of the most beautiful playhouses of the Victorian era, and by its very nature engages performers and audiences extremely closely. However for me, the real value has been in the people, my professional colleagues plus the audiences who have attended performances in ever increasing numbers.”
But Mr Edwards’ hard work has not gone unnoticed.
Theatre Royal Patron Claire Young said that his vision and drive has led to the ongoing success of the city’s leading drama venue, despite difficult times for the arts.
Miss Young said: “As theatres have closed across the country he has protected the Theatre Royal with new initiatives, driving footfall and huge amounts of tenacity not to give up. The theatre provides not only a huge amount of enjoyment for the people in the district but also an abundance of opportunities, especially for young people.”
Mr Murray said it was these production opportunities he was most proud of. He said: “I have always taken the view that the Theatre Royal Wakefield should be a ‘community theatre’ and in order to fully reflect that position it is important to produce as well as present work.”
“In 2003 we presented our first in-house pantomime and our first youth musical. Both of them set the scene for what was to follow and the theatre is now renowned throughout Yorkshire for the quality of its work. Over the past 12 years our annual pantomime has almost doubled audiences and our youth musicals are now the envy of the north. Our developing relationship with John Godber and his company has also resulted in a major boost for the theatre and for Wakefield. Perhaps my most important legacy, however, will be the Performance Academy.
“We offer training in drama, dance and singing, all of which are designed to encourage young people to develop their skills and individuality.
“Our focus is on developing the individual so that they can make the most of their life chances and become successful at whatever they chose to do.”
Mr Murray’s daughters Iona Edwards and Aileen Cowler paid tribute to their father’s time at the theatre, which they say will always remain a part of his life.
Miss Edwards said: “The theatre has played a huge part in Dad’s life for as long as both Aileen and I have been alive.
“We know his time at Theatre Royal, Wakefield will always hold a special place in his memories and that he will remember it with great fondness.”
Taking over the reins from Mr Edwards is the National Theatre’s Katie Town.
Mr Edwards said: “I think it is important that Katie and the team have the opportunity to build on what has gone before.
“Eighteen years is a long time but I hope that the ground has been well and truly fertilised in a way that will allow them to take the theatre forward in the way they feel to be most appropriate.
“I look forward to maintaining my relationship with the theatre, but now as a member of the audience.”