Meet the Board

Rob West (Chair)

Rob joined the Board at the Mercury Theatre in 2015. He currently works for the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) as their Head of Education and Skills.

Rob joined the CBI in 2022 from the Sector Skills Council Creative & Cultural Skills following past roles that have included Associate Director (Education) at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and Senior Theatre Officer for Arts Council England. He also ran Insite, a programme using the Essex cultural scene to build up the tourist market in the county. Projects as part of that programme included the site-specific piece Souterrain, and the outdoor theatre piece Three Heads in the Well, both produced in partnership with the Mercury Theatre.

Rob has worked professionally as a writer, actor, director, radio presenter and live events producer, and has also been Vice-Chair at the Queens Theatre Hornchurch and a trustee at the National Centre for Circus Arts. Rob has presented at conferences and events both here and abroad, and also works as a freelance consultant.


Rodney Appleyard

Rodney Appleyard

Rod has been working in the charity sector for 18 years and in journalism for 27 years. This includes stints at the BBC, Channel 4, Christian Aid, The Big Issue, Changing Faces and Amnesty International. During that time, he has been the Editor for multiple magazines and websites, including one of the most popular film magazine in Australia, where he lived for six years.

Rodney is passionate about Colchester and its future potential, having gone to school and grown up in the city. He brought his family back to Colchester from Sydney in 2010, so his children could experience the same positive upbringing as he did. Since then, he has been working for the Colchester Catalyst Charity, which is based in Dedham and awards £100,000s in grants to local health projects and individuals, to improve their lives. As part of his role at the charity, he has developed very close relationships with other major funders, such as the National Lottery Community Fund. Additionally, he works as a Communications Manager for the UK Data Service, based at the University of Essex, which holds the biggest collection of social science research in the UK, including the Census.

Rodney also presents the Movie Makers show on Colne Radio each week, which showcases the work of local filmmakers; writes as a film columnist for the Daily Gazette; manages the communication activities for Anglian Community Trust and edits his own film website – Screen Innovation.

Cllr Lyn Barton

Lyn is the Colchester Borough Council representative on the Mercury Board. She studied Drama and English in London and went on to teach the subjects in London and Colchester Schools. She had the privilege to be selected as a theatre critic for the Laurence Olivier Awards for one year during which time she saw every West End production. It was a brilliant experience and confirmed her belief that theatre can change lives. She believes the Mercury Theatre is an integral part of the Colchester scene and oozes talent, enthusiasm and commitment.

In her own words: ‘I am proud to be a Board Member of such a vibrant establishment. These are exciting times with the imminent refurbishment and I am pleased to have an input into the improvements to not only the theatre but also the public realm area surrounding it.’

Samantha Blackwell-Heard

Samantha is a publishing industry professional and is currently Client Services Director at Penguin Random House UK. Samantha manages a number of areas including New Business and management of Third Party Client Publishers.

Samantha lives locally and has had a love of theatre since studying A Level Theatre Studies over 20 years ago. Samantha’s first link with the Mercury Theatre was in the early 90s when she entered a young playwright competition and was successful in winning a rehearsed reading of her play, which was performed in the Mercury studio.

Samantha has a wide range of interests along with her passion for theatre, including horticulture, aviation (she is a qualified private pilot) and is currently studying history part time with the University of Oxford.

Matt Brindley

ITN 2017 Matt Brindley 0347

Matt is Managing Editor at ITV News.  He’s had a 20-year career in regional and national television news, working in a range of different newsrooms and as a travelling producer. He’s also edited all ITV News news programmes and some special events.

Matt lives locally and has a love of theatre and musicals. His daughter is a keen performer at the Mercury with both CO2 and Stagecoach.

Oliver Brown

Oliver Brown

Oliver has 30 years in the hotel industry, and is now General Manager of Wivenhoe House, a subsidiary of the University of Essex and home to the Edge Hotel School (EHS).

Oliver left University in 1993 and joined the Ritz London’s Food & Beverage Training scheme, where he worked through all departments, back and front of house. Later, when Dorchester was booming with celebrities, leisure and corporate, Oliver joined their team as Assistant Steward, eventually becoming shift leader.

He has held managerial positions at Blooms, a 27-bedroom hotel in Bloomsbury; the Colonnade in Warwick Avenue; the London Hilton on Park Lane; Jumeirah Carlton Tower; Flemings, Mayfair; and, for the past 8 years, Wivenhoe House.

Oliver has a wife and 2 daughters, and live just north of Colchester, with their 2 dogs, 1 hamster, 5 chickens and 1,000s of bees!

Dominic Collins

Dominic has spent over 20 years working in the public sector in roles across national and local government.  Having begun his career in Whitehall, Dominic moved to Essex County Council in 2004 working in various roles during his 16 years at the authority, including supporting the bid and delivery of the London 2012 Games at local, regional and national levels. Dominic’s main focus at the council was supporting economic growth, skills development and housing delivery across the county, including securing over £200m from government to deliver growth and cultural projects.  Dominic’s last role at ECC was as Director responsible for a wide range of council services encompassing economic growth and skills (including strategic leadership of 9 Adult Community Learning colleges), housing and infrastructure planning, heritage, culture, arts, tourism and country parks.

Since 2020, Dominic has been the Corporate Director for Growth at Braintree District Council, responsible for the authority’s economic growth and planning work, a £43m asset portfolio and a capital project delivery programme of over £80m.  As a senior member of the leadership team, Dominic is also responsible for various elements of the authority’s strategic direction and delivery of the Council’s corporate priorities.

Having lived in Colchester for over 20 years, Dominic has enjoyed performing with local choral societies, been an active school governor and enjoys visiting as many theatres, arts centres and art galleries as possible with his wife and two children.

Lorna Fox O’Mahony

Lorna Fox O’Mahony is a Professor of Law, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and a trustee at the University of Essex. Specialising in property, land and housing law, she taught at Queen’s University Belfast and Durham University before moving to Essex in 2013 to take up the role of Executive Dean Humanities.

Lorna was founding chair of Creative Colchester Partnership and Essex Co-Chair of the South East Creative Economy Network. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and has held a range of national and international academic appointments.

Her latest book, Squatting and the State: Resilient Property in an Age of Crisis (CUP) will be published early in 2022. Lorna lives near Colchester with her husband David and their two sons.

Marianne Hahn

Marianne has brand building expertise in the luxury, beauty, fashion, retail, hospitality, entertainment, wellness, and FMCG sectors. She has led communications teams and functions inhouse at Burberry and L’Oréal and within global marketing agencies. Her clients have included Lego, Procter & Gamble, Universal Pictures, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Disney, and Gillette. She now consults on marketing and communications for established brands, integrated agencies, start-ups, and collectives.

As well as a love of drama and music, Marianne studied History, English and European Literature at University and is an avid reader and fledgling writer. Her other passion is travel, having grown up in the Middle East and the USA and worked in cities as diverse as Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Milan, Geneva, and Dubai.

Marianne was born in Colchester and the Mercury was the first theatre she visited as a child for the pantomime. She joined the board of the Mercury in 2021.

Mark Hoult-Allen

Mark trained as a stage manager at LAMDA and then went on to work in production administration in the West End for a number of years before moving into theatre administration for Theatre Royal Stratford East and Oval House Arts Centre.

Mark has held several roles within arts funding including Theatre Officer for the London Arts Board and Head of National Touring, as well as Director of Business Process for Arts Council England. Following the Arts Council, Mark spent nearly seven years at Comic Relief, first as Head of Grants Operations, then as Head of Business Planning & Process and for a short stint as Operations Director.

Mark has been a school governor and has held directorships and trusteeships in a number of not-for-profit arts organisations. He is currently a trustee and the Chair of We Are family, a peer-to-peer adoption support charity.

Mark is now a freelance consultant, specialising in governance, compliance, and risk, working for a range of charities and commercial organisations.

Matthew Linley

Matthew has recently returned to the Eastern region in order to develop his freelance career, starting with producing the UK tour of Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone. Previously, Matthew was the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Unity Theatre, Liverpool. Co-productions whilst at Unity include Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone (with Riksteatern, Sweden also seen at Young Vic, London and Traverse, Edinburgh), Lampedusa (with Soho and Hightide), Princess and the Pea and Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf (with Action Transport), Bardolphs Box (with Up the Road Theatre) and Molly Davies Chicken (with Eastern Angles).

Prior to joining Unity Matthew was General Manager of Eastern Angles  producing 18 shows for the company which toured into community centres, theatres, aircraft hangers, railway museums and ancient monuments to name but a few.

As an independent producer he’s produced the Insulting Cabaret for the Royal National Theatre / International Pen (with the hub) and five Phrased and Confused festival stages and two national tours. With Windswept Productions Matthew produced Murray Lachlan Young’s first stage play The Incomers (London and UK tour). He also produced the first UK tour for Croatian live artists BADco and followed that with a tour of Cepheus by DB Indos (also Croatia).

Helena Oxley


Helena is an Employment Solicitor based within the BLHR and Employment Team at Birkett Long. She previously worked at law firms in Cambridgeshire, where she grew up, and Lincolnshire. As an Employment Solicitor, Helena advises employers and employees on both contentious and non-contentious day-to-day employment matters. This includes advising on settlement agreements, supporting her clients through grievance and disciplinary processes as well as defending and pursing claims.

Helena has a keen interest in providing training to employers on implementing best practice, including for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; mental health awareness; carrying out investigations and dealing with disciplinaries and grievances. Helena works in conjunction with the Anglia Ruskin University Law Clinic and their law students to provide free legal advice.

In her spare time, Helena enjoys attending the theatre as regularly as she can, as well as playing basketball and taking walks along the coast.

Sean Plummer

Sean is a CIPFA qualified accountant with over 30 years experience in local government finance. He was the Chief Finance Officer at Colchester Borough Council  and led on strategic financial planning with overall responsibility for the financial affairs of the authority. He has provided financial advice and leadership on many large scale projects as well as budget management and financial analysis.  Sean also has recent experience working in the charity sector.

Sean’s first visit to the Mercury Theatre was at the age of 15 attending a careers day at which an accountant gave a presentation about the profession after walking on to the stage to the tune of “money makes the world go round”.

Born and bred in Colchester, in his spare time he enjoys playing the guitar, photography, sport and walking.

Jennie Skingsley

Jennie is a Senior Associate and the Head of Marketing at Birkett Long. Her key responsibilities are creation of the firm’s marketing strategy and ensuring activities feed directly into achieving the firm’s main objectives. She runs a team of problem solvers who help their teams identify opportunities and manage the firm’s profile consistently. She is a Chartered Marketer, an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has completed the Professional Diploma in Marketing.

In 2015 Jennie became a Trustee of registered charity the League of Friends of St Andrew’s Church, Halstead, having assisted with fundraising and planning over the previous couple of years. She is a member of the Strategy Board for Thurrock’s Next Top Boss – a Thurrock Council-run initiative working with schools and colleges. In May 2022, she stepped down from the Parochial Church Council of St Andrew’s Church in Halstead, having been a member for 16 and half years, including a period as Vice Lay Chair.

Much of her spare time is taken up by music (and shoes!). She is the co-founder and musical director of Exaltation! Choir. At St Andrew’s Church, she coordinates the worship band at their informal ‘Ignite’ services. She is a Grade 8 flautist and, as well as singing, she is occasionally found enthusiastically bashing a cajón (slightly out of time).

Julia Stephen

J. Stephen

Julia first came to The Mercury to see a production of Cabaret when her family moved from London in 1977. It started a love affair which continues to this day,. She even got married on the stage in the studio!

Theatre has been a huge part of her life even since her Dad took her to see student productions at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and she is delighted to be back to do a second stint on the board of The Mercury.

She used to work for Marks & Spencer Head Office where she ran cultural events for the staff. These included Playwriting classes in the lunch hour and a Poet in Residence. She now works part time in Social Research, which gives her the time to be involved in the cultural life of Colchester. She is also connected with The Minories and the Arts Centre.

Anita Thornberry

Anita has been working in the field of economic development for 20 years.  She started her career with English Heritage where she promoted heritage sites as economic regeneration tools to secure funding for the improvement of the sites. As a result of this work, Anita was seconded to the Regional Development Agency in the North East (One NorthEast), and was involved in Newcastle’s bid to be European Capital of Culture, led on the creation of a World Heritage Site Management Plan for Durham University and Cathedral, and assisted in the restructuring of tourism in the region.  From One NorthEast, Anita became Head of Tourism for London, helping to restructure the London tourism landscape and established Visit London and ensured that tourism was identified as a key driver of economic development via the London Economic Plan, among others.

Anita has also worked for Southend Borough Council as Head of Economy, Tourism and Regeneration, where she worked with Planning colleagues on the expansion of London Southend Airport runway, and led on the development of the Southend Airport Business Park. Anita left Southend Borough Council to take up the position of MedTech Campus Director with Anglia Ruskin University where she specialised in helping to bring innovations in the health and social care arena to market.

Since April 2016, Anita has been the Executive Director of the Haven Gateway Partnership where she is helping to secure business engagement in the A120 campaign; engaging with Whitehall and Westminster on the work of the Haven Gateway Partnership; and, overseeing ERDF bids for the logistics and construction sectors. In addition, Anita is an Economic Development Consultant for Braintree District Council.

Peter Torres Fremlin


Peter has worked for over a decade in international development, with a focus on inclusion and accessibility. Most of Peter’s work has been as a freelancer, with a focus on the rights of disabled people.

He now writes Disability Debrief, an online magazine featuring the experiences of disabled people around the world. Before that he worked extensively with the International Labour Organization and other international organizations.

Growing up in Colchester, the Mercury was a landmark in Peter’s childhood. Work and research took him to Brazil, Bangladesh, Egypt and Switzerland before returning to Colchester in 2020.

Peter loves languages, conversation and is currently addicted to online chess.

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