The Hostry Festival
The Hostry Festival brings a fortnight of drama, music, conversation and celebrities to Norwich this month – and it couldn’t happen without Peter Barrow, writes ROWAN MANTELL
We talk to event benefactor Peter Barrow
PETER Barrow thought he had given up acting – until he got involved in a new Norwich festival.
Ever since he has played a vital role in the Hostry Festival, not just on stage, but in helping fund it too.
Together with Stash Kirkbride he helped stage a single play in the new Cathedral Hostry, seven years ago. The following year they revived another play and added more events. Today the festival runs for more than a fortnight, with patrons including Melvyn Bragg, Hayley Mills and Olivia Newton-John.
“Stash’s father was a big noise in Australian television. He produced a show a bit like X Factor, called Boomeride. Olivia Newton-John was one of the promising young contestants,” explained Peter.
She went on to star in Grease and the Kirkbride family moved back to Norfolk, but when Stash got in touch, and mentioned his father, she agreed to be patron of the Norfolk festival.
Peter grew up in Canada and still speaks with a soft Canadian accent, often mistaken for Irish. “My father was a successful businessman, with a big catalogue and department store company, Simpson-Sears,” said Peter.
Offered a job in the London office, he was far more interested in the classical music concerts and operas of the British capital.
“But I couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket so I thought I may as well have a look at this acting lark and was surprised by how much I liked it,” explained Peter.
He enrolled in drama classes, and then drama college, and became part of a group of friends who loved theatre.
“But I never really got beyond the fringe of the industry,” he said. When two of the group, Stash Kirkbride and Rebecca Chapman, moved to Norwich, he soon followed. “I didn’t know
many people and half the people I knew well had come up to Norwich, so I thought I’d try it.
“I loved it. It’s a lot more convenient than London because it is so much smaller, but it is a city with a lot of arts stuff going on and quite lively.
And Stash, Rebecca and Peter soon added to that. He had given up trying to make a living from acting but said: “Once you’re in it, it never really goes away.” Now 66, he still mainly wants to act. He secured parts in Maddermarket and Crude Apache productions - and invested part of an inheritance in the Hostry Festival.
“So far it’s a massive philanthropic venture!” said Peter. “It’s hard to make money in a small venue.”
But the Hostry Festival is making a big impact. It showcases the talents of internationally-known names alongside local people with disabilities, brings painters on to the streets of Norwich, revives little-known plays and rewards the talents of people working in the arts across the county.
And for Peter, who helps make all of this happen, his highlight of each Hostry Festival is the chance to act.
This year he will be playing the chief of police in The Eagle Has Two Heads by Jean Cocteau. A would-be assassin falls for a reclusive queen in a love story, with live music, which has not been staged in Norfolk for at least 70 years.
Peter Barrow in costume for his part in the central production of the Hostry Festival
Stash Kirkbride and Peter Barrow
Norwich Hostry Festival 2017 launch night at Norwich Cathedral
Hostry Festival 2017 - Total Ensemble Theatre Company.