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Assembly Festival Garden review: Debbie Isitt in Conversation


Debbie Isitt in Conversation, Assembly Festival Garden, Coventry, August 27 only.

By John Gore

Debbie Isitt has been a one-woman film industry in Coventry for almost 30 years. Her talk recognised her feats in creating the highly successful Nativity! franchise and also delved into more personal and formative aspects of her life.

Born in Birmingham in 1966, her introduction to theatre came through joining her parents ushering at the Birmingham Rep where she took a particular liking to The Wizard of Oz.

Not satisfied with watching it 17 times, she summoned the drive and determination which characterises her work to stage a production at school, pressing friends and relations into supporting roles to her Dorothy.

School and the academic life offered little inspiration to Debbie, who was truanting. She makes a strong case for the inclusion of drama and the creative arts as a means of engaging the lively and imaginative minds such as hers and keeping them engaged in education.

Exams passed, Debbie earned a place studying drama in Coventry, where she began to find her true vocation. She spoke with great warmth and appreciation of the energy and co-operation she encountered in Coventry in the 1980s, inspired by TIC TOC theatre company and the work of the Belgrade Youth Theatre and Warwick Arts Centre. She established her own theatre company, Snarling Beasties which toured regularly in this country and overseas.

After a trio of short films, she got to make her first feature, Nasty Neighbours with Ricky Tomlinson in 1999, while heavily pregnant.

Her next feature, Confetti (2006), drew the attention of Hollywood and she went to do 'serious meetings' with studio representatives and a promising young producer by the name of Brad Pitt!

Not waiting for the phone to ring, Debbie returned home to make Nativity! (2009) in Coventry which may not have wowed the critics but hit the mark with audiences and has spawned three sequels and a stage musical. This is evidence that audiences identify with the struggle of the less privileged and blessed in the hundreds of Coventrys across Europe and the English speaking world.

Debbie identified her father as her Midland hero for his no-nonsense approach and insistence to 'just get on with the job' - a lesson that she has taken to heart and applied to great effect and success.

For more information about the Assembly Festival Garden, go to: https://coventry2021.co.uk/explore/assembly-festival-garden/