Darwen director Amy Leach brings ‘lost worlds’ to life

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Amy Leach Amy Leach

Amy Leach tells Diane Cooke about her life in the theatre, her new Christmas production, and an upcoming show about Edwardian film-makers Mitchell and Kenyon

AMY Leach was always destined for the stage. At three she was so enraptured by the ballet Romeo and Juliet that she re-invented herself as the romantic heroine and her mum made her a pair of tiny ballet shoes.

In fact the Darwen-born award-winning theatre director owes her career to her mum.

Julia, an educational psychologist, ignited her passion for the creative arts by taking her two daughters – Amy’s sister is well-known illustrator Sally Leach – on magical theatre visits to venues around the North West and London’s West End.

“I must only have been about six, but I remember productions like Stig of The Dump and The Red Balloon transporting my imagination. I used to write films and little plays which we’d enact in the school holidays.”

Amy, now 32, and directing Wanted! Robin Hood, the Library Theatre’s Christmas show at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre from Friday, November 29, says growing up in Blackburn helped shape her future.

At three she was enrolled with Pat Eakets School of Dance and danced her way through pantos and productions at King George’s Hall until she hit 14 when she discovered youth theatre at Bolton Octagon and Darwen Library Theatres.

A pupil of St Wilfrid’s High School, she went on to study English at Durham University, where she met her husband, actor and composer John Biddle, who is now appearing in The Nutcracker in Southampton.

“I didn’t fancy him at first because he had long, greasy hair,” she said. “But we went on tour on a bus and by the end of it I’d changed my opinion.”

After graduation, Amy co-founded the award-winning theatre company for young people, en masse, which toured nationally and internationally between 2003 and 2011. One of her productions, The Echo Chamber, won the Edinburgh Fringe First Winner 2003 and the following year she took the title for The Ignatius Trail.

The accolades keep flooding in. She trained on the National Theatre Directors’ Course and is an Associate Artist of the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, The Egg in Bath, National Youth Theatre and Shakespeare Schools Festival.

She directed Arabian Nights last Christmas for the Library Theatre Company. It won the Best Ensemble Award at this year’s Manchester Theatre Awards, and she was invited back to take charge of this year’s festive production. Wanted! Robin Hood is a new adaptation by prolific writer Charles Way and promises to thrill audiences with its tones of light and dark and epic soundtrack.

Amy and John now live in Bath and have a two-and-a-half-year-old son Bertie.

Her next project is The Life and Times of Mitchell and Kenyon: Cinematographers Extraordinaire, for the Dukes Theatre and Oldham Coliseum which will be performed in Spring 2014. It tells the tale of two Blackburn filmakers in Edwardian times who filmed the public going about its business and then screened them at local fairgrounds. Their work was forgotten until 1994 when 850 films were found by local film historian, the late Peter Warden, stored in milk churns at a shop in Northgate.

The films were restored by the British Film Institute and are considered to be the best archive of Edwardian footage in the world.

In 2005, they featured in the BBC documentary series, The Lost World of Mitchell And Kenyon, presented by Dan Cruickshank. “It’s miraculous that the films survived because they were stored in nitrate stock to stop them combusting. I heard the story from my sister who did a mural for Blackburn Council and included the filmakers in it. I love the fact that these two men had a full film studio and featured places like Corporation Park.

“The play integrates the film and tells the story of the two men coming back from the grave to find that they have made a name for themselves.”

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