Am-dram performers dedicate show to director and ex-Peterborough headteacher after sudden death from leukemia

Sandra Samwell (left) with Doug Pattie, Amanda Villamayor and Alex Broadfield
Sandra Samwell (left) with Doug Pattie, Amanda Villamayor and Alex Broadfield
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An amateur dramatics cast in Peterborough are dedicating their performances to their former director who died suddenly from leukemia aged 64.

Am-dram stalwart and ex-Deacon’s School headteacher Sandra Samwell passed away on Monday (September 5), the day before Peterborough Operatic and Dramatic Society (PODS) began performing The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Key Theatre.

Sandra with Shirley Chilvers, Sarah McKinley and David Edwards

Sandra with Shirley Chilvers, Sarah McKinley and David Edwards

Sandra had been the show’s director until four weeks ago when she was diagnosed with leukemia, with her place taken by Jennie Dighton.

Jennie said: “It was a terrible shock when we heard her diagnosis. She was such a warm, loving, encouraging person who saw the best in people.

“It was very difficult on Monday night having to go to the theatre and tell the cast what happened.

“She is on everybody’s mind and I wanted to do the best we possibly can for Sandra and to do her proud.

“We’ve had good audiences and they have been very complimentary. Everybody is performing at the top of their game because they want to do their best for Sandra.

“I would not want her last production to fall short in any way whatsoever.

“She was a lovely lady and will be sadly missed.”

Sandra was at Deacon’s School for more than 25 years before moving to The Hemel Hempstead School then retiring.

She lived in Newborough and studied theology at the University of Hull before training to become a teacher at Homerton College at the University of Cambridge.

At Deacon’s she taught religious education, English, drama and sociology.

Sandra is credited with influencing West End performers Tracey Penn, Griffin Stevens and Matt Nalton and New York Times bestselling author Simon Toyne.

Jennie added: “You only have to look at the things that people have written on Facebook to see how well loved and respected she was.

“She encouraged so many students to pursue their love of acting.

“She directed all the Peterborough Playgoers’ plays in the last six to seven years. And three years ago when Peterborough Operatic and Dramatic Society started doing plays in September she directed them.”

Sandra had begun writing a book about a relative who was on the voyage with Captain Cook which saw the mapping New Zealand and Australia.

Her passing on Monday was sudden according to her younger sister Fiona Fairchild who said: “She was diagnosed four weeks ago with leukemia and had undergone treatment.

“It was bad but we did not expect it to happen straight away.

“I’ve had so many outpourings from people about how she affected their lives, past pupils of her that she had kept in contact with.

“They have been messaging me non-stop saying she had a big influence on their lives and careers.”

Fiona and her children are Sandra’s only remaining relatives.

Describing her sister as a devoted aunt, Fiona added: “She was incredibly clever and loved everybody and helping people. She seemed to know something about everything.

“She was a very colourful character and in the last few years became a dog owner, and she was very well known on Facebook for her regular posts with the dog.”

A bucket collection is taking place at the end of each production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice for blood cancer charity Bloodwise, with the final performance taking place on Saturday (August 10).

Sandra was also a local representative for the National Operatic and Dramatic Association and was a big fan of singer Petula Clark.

Sandra was on the board of directors at Thomas Deacon Academy which replaced Deacon’s.

Thomas Deacon Academy Education Trust CEO Julie Taylor said: “She always championed best balanced education. She was passionate for the creative arts, dancing, music. She did everything in her power to give opportunities to students.

“She was an incredibly talented writer herself and was happy to share that with the children.

“She was a very strong person but really kind. She had very high standards but she believed everybody had something creative in them.”