MATT Fox has lived in Swindon for only a little over half a decade, but he praises it with a fervour worthy of the most loyal local.
He is especially keen to tear town cliches about culture and our supposed lack of it, and has a ready answer for anybody who complains there’s not much going on.
“We have a lot of people who are professionals in the industry,” he said, listing Swindon performers with credits everywhere form the West End to Opera North.
“In terms of the training we’ve got, there are some excellent music schools, drama schools and dance schools.
“There’s absolutely no reason why Swindon should be seen as a cultural backwater at all in terms of training. The real problem is there’s almost this sense that people put themselves down, and don’t think there’s anything good.
“I think it’s partly due to what’s said in the media – people start to believe it – but I think it’s also due to a lack of being able to see what’s going on. A good example of this is Swindon Dance, which is perhaps one of the most important dance organisations in the country, but almost nobody knows it exists. But in London people know it’s there.
“It’s almost that nobody is talking about it, that nobody is showcasing this stuff.”
Matt believes in encouraging as many people, especially young ones, to explore their potential as artists, but he’s realistic about the reasons why this might be difficult.
“If you’ve got a choice between paying the mortgage and sending the kids to singing lessons, you’re going to pay the mortgage. It’s a real shame because talent isn’t just something that middle class kids have, it’s something that all kids have.”
Matt is originally from Cornwall. His father is a driving instructor and his mother a teaching assistant. He has a 27-year-old brother, Sam, and a 22-year-old sister, Anna, both of whom work with people who have learning issues.
As a child and teenager, Matt lived within easy travelling distance of Plymouth, which he describes as having the most prolific theatre production schedule in the country. The 1,500 seater Theatre Royal and the much smaller Drum theatre co-operate, with the larger theatre helping to support the smaller one’s encouragement of new talent and shows with a more limited market.
The arrangement shaped not only Matt’s attitude to the arts but also his own career. “It involved doing a lot of workshops – writing, drama, music and a lot of performing.
“I was a member of a writers’ group down there. That’s where I got into writing. Me and a friend went along and that was the first writing I ever did.”
Matt met his wife, Jessie, while studying at the University of London. The couple later lived in Cornwall while Matt completed a post-graduate degree but moved to Swindon, Jessie’s home town, in 2006.
Jessie is the daughter of Janice Thompson, a major figure in music education locally. Swindon was chosen because the couple wanted to be close to at least one set of parents and because Swindon is rather more central than Cornwall.
After the triumph this summer of Swindon: The Opera, next year’s theatre festival is a natural progression.
In the meantime Matt wants to drive home the message that there are plenty of interesting non-mainstream atttractions to be found here already.
“Look at places like The Vic, Swindon Dance,” he said. “Look at places like The Furnace that had a piece of immersive theatre in it.
“It’s all about looking past the obvious because if you only look at the obvious venues you’re only going to see what they’re putting on.”