Hazel set to exit stage left

FOR Hazel Clover Ipswich's Regent Theatre has been a passion and a labour of love.

James Marston

FOR Hazel Clover Ipswich's Regent Theatre has been a passion and labour of love.

Today JAMES MARSTON talks to her about some of the highlights of her time as manager.

SITTING in her small office Hazel Clover looks tanned and well.

She's just come back from honeymoon in Mauritius.

She said: “It was wonderful. We had a lovely time.”

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But Hazel's recent marriage to sound engineer Jeremy means she is also leaving her position as Regent manager.

She said: “We're moving to the midlands where Jeremy has a house. We've both got family and friends there. I will miss it here, the team are fantastic, and I'm sorry to be going but I'm ready for new challenges.”

Ever since she was a little girl Hazel has loved the theatre.

She said: “I used to go to the Theatre Royal in Norwich with my mum when I was a child. I always loved the mystery of the curtain opening and the show beginning though it was never my intention to be on the stage.

“I enjoy the magic of creating this out of world experience and seeing people enjoying themselves gives me great satisfaction. To bring a show to the town and see it being successful is a great feeling.”

Leaving at the end of the month, Hazel joined the Regent team back in 1991.

She said: “My first job in the theatre was at Norwich Arts Centre and I also worked for the Norwich and Norfolk Festival and Norwich Theatre Royal. I cam down to Ipswich in 1991 and the theatre re-opened after being adapted from a cinema in September 1991.

“I worked in a new marketing and publicity post. I remember the opening night. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra gave a concert. It was black tie and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was a wonderful night.”

Quickly becoming involved with the programming, publicity and working as a duty manager Hazel became manager in 2000 on the retirement of her predecessor Roy Stephenson.

Introducing changes in the theatre's programming has enabled the costs of running the theatre, borne by Ipswich Borough Council, to be significantly reduced over the years. Hazel said the introduction of the pantomimes produced at the theatre has helped make the venue more viable as a business concern.

She said: “The pantomime season was an obvious place where we could alter the programming and develop audiences. We've produced pantomimes here for the last three years.

Brian Blessed's appearance in the first such production remains a highlight for Hazel.

She said: “He is an iconic actor and getting him was a huge coup for the theatre. He was larger than life, full of energy and exuberance and a big personality. He took his three dogs with him everywhere he went and he enjoyed his time here.

“It was also on the first pantomime that I met my husband so it has a special place in my heart.”

For Hazel the refurbishment of the theatre last summer remains a source of pride.

She said: “I look back at that with pride and relief that we did it on time.”

The £500,000 project, which took 13 weeks to complete, included new seating, new lighting and a re-paint of the auditorium - it was completed on time and on budget.

Hazel said: “We had huge support from the council for the project. We had refurbished the dressing rooms and the circle bar so we had had some experience. At that time the Regent was 78-years-old and that sort of age building can throw up all sort of challenges.

“To continue to provide high quality acts you need to provide customers with a high quality entertainment experience and now the theatre experience equates to the price of the shows and quality of the performers.”

For Hazel the Regent Theatre has been the fulfilment of an ambition.

She said: “It's been hard work but the Regent has been a huge part of my life for the last seven or eight years. It is the people of Ipswich that support the theatre and I hope that continues in the future.”

- Are you a regular at the theatre? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

- Hazel's Highlights

-Footloose “This is one of my favourite musicals. It was great fun.”

-Saturday Night Fever “A big show, a big spectacle and a big production.”

-Grease “I love the music and it's one of the biggest touring musicals.”

-French and Saunders “Dawn French is my favourite.”

-Tom Jones “His show was so full of energy I really remember the atmosphere of that night.”

-Friday Night is Music Night - “They recorded live from the theatre. It was a fantastic evening.”

-Michael Buble “He was brilliant and performs with such skill and style.”

-Christmas Rat Pack “A great and slick show.”

-Def Leppard “The energy at rock concerts like this is incredible.”

-Russian State Ballet of Siberia “Their production of Swan lake was magical.”