Meet the Board

Kathleen Hamilton (Chair)

Kathleen has worked in theatre management and administration for over 30 years with companies including Belgrade TIE, Coventry, Common Stock, Extemporary Dance, Colway Theatre Trust. For five years she worked as a Drama Officer for the Arts Council of England, with a period as Acting Drama Director, before joining the Leicester Haymarket Theatre in 1996 as Executive Director. From 2000 she worked as a freelance manager and consultant for companies including Derby Playhouse, ATG, London Arts Board, TMA, Arts Council England and Adzido Dance prior to joining the Theatrical Management Association (now known as UK Theatre) in 2003, as Principal Officer. In 2011 she joined the Hackney Empire as Director of Theatre and Operations. She now lives full-time in Suffolk and became Chair of the Mercury Theatre in December 2013.

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.

Bryan Johnston

Bryan is a Solicitor and Consultant to GoodyBurrett LLP Solicitors. Bryan was formerly the Senior partner who specialised in commercial contract negotiation, commercial litigation, civil litigation and employment law. He is a qualified Mediator. He has recently concluded five years on the Employers’ Panel of NEST (National Employment Savings Trust).

Bryan originally came to Colchester having served with the British Army. He left the Army after commanding an infantry company during the first Gulf war. He is the past President of the Colchester Committee of the Essex Chamber of Commerce (2008 – 2012) and is the past Chair of the Essex Committee of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. Bryan was also on the Board of the company that secured the multi-million pound business improvement district (BID) for Colchester.

He is married and has three children and two step-children. He likes sailing, skiing, cycling and writing plays but not necessarily in that order. Bryan is delighted to have been involved with the Mercury from the outset of the major development seeing it though to such a successful conclusion.

Hassina Khan

Hassina originally trained and worked as a Stage Manager, specialising in Theatre for Young Audiences and Theatre in Education and working with companies across the country. When she got fed up with being nice to actors every day, she took a sideways step to set up and run the Education & Community department at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. She ran the Education department at the Palace Theatre Watford for 7 years, working closely with Giles Croft, and then moved to the national office of Arts Council England and then to Creative Partnerships. She has been a School Governor (twice) and a Board member of both Trestle Theatre and Eastern Angles Theatre Company.

Hassina has been freelance since 2010 and has worked with arts organisations, Local Authorities, strategic agencies and ACE Bridge organisations, delivering, facilitating and evaluating cultural activity for children and young people and supporting the professionals that work with them. Alongside this, she has a separate practice as a glass artist and is currently studying at the National Glass Centre for an MA in Visual Practice: Glass.

A Londoner by birth, with a heritage that spans Bury St Edmunds and Karachi, Hassina is proud to have lived and worked in the East of England since 1990.


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).

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.

Patrick Sandford

Patrick was Artistic Director of the Nuffield Theatre Southampton for over 20 years, where the programme included major classics as well as new writing and British premieres of foreign work. He won the Theatre Managers’ Association award for Best Director for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and a new play by Claire Tomalin, The Winter Wife. Previous Artistic Directorships include the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham and The Lyric Theatre Belfast, where he produced and directed many new plays about the political situation. His productions have been seen several times in the West End and on the Fringe (both London and Edinburgh), as well as extensively on tour throughout the UK and abroad (USA, Canada, France, Australia, South Africa…). He is currently ‘dramaturg’ responsible for text on King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe, and his own performance piece Groomed (which won three outstanding theatre awards at the Brighton Fringe in 2016) opens at the Soho Theatre in June of this year.

Jennie Skingsley

Jennie is an Associate and the Marketing Manager 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 an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has completed the Professional Diploma in Marketing.

She sits on the Parochial Church Council of St Andrew’s Church in Halstead, and in 2015 also became a Trustee of registered charity the Friends of St Andrew’s Church. In March 2016 she was invited to become a Board member at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester.

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).

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.

Simon Warwick

Simon lives locally with his wife and two children. He joined the Mercury Theatre Board in 2013. Simon trained as an actor at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, leaving in 1985. He worked extensively in touring theatre, including a lengthy run with the Mercury Theatre Repertory Company in 1987, where he was seen in productions such as Annie, The Ghost Train and Having a Ball.

After appearances in Pantomime with Les Dawson, he toured the UK in various thrillers including Deathtrap, playing one of the lead characters, Clifford Anderson, opposite Colin Baker. This led him to the small screen where Simon played a small role in the 1989 TV mini-series re-make of Great Expectations, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jean Simmons. After his West End theatre debut in the 1989 musical adaptation of Metropolis, Simon put his acting career on hold to co-produce the hit West End comedy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by The Reduced Shakespeare Company with a young Producer called Edward Snape. This relationship flourished with Simon and Edward forming what was to become one of London’s most highly respected theatre ticket agencies, The Ticket Machine.

In 2013, after 22 years as CEO of brands such as Group Line and, he sold the business to Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and subsequently retired from the London theatre scene in 2014. He is now the Chairman of Essex based group experience company, Groups Direct.

Robert West

Rob joined the Board at the Mercury Theatre in 2015. He is currently Director of Partnerships & Delivery at Creative & Cultural Skills – a not-for-profit organisation supporting the UK cultural sector by shaping skills, education and employment best practice.

Rob joined Creative & Cultural Skills following roles including Associate Director at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and eight years as 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 included the site-specific piece Souterrain, and the outdoor theatre piece Three Heads in the Well, both produced in partnership with the Mercury Theatre in 2006.

Rob has also worked professionally as an actor, writer, director, radio presenter and producer, and was previously Vice-Chair at the Queens Theatre Hornchurch before joining the Mercury Board. Rob has presented at conferences and events both here and abroad, and also works as a freelance consultant.


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