Bakers HR head’s stage graft

“I sometimes wonder if I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive,” says Baker & McKenzie HR director Martin Blackburn.

This is not because of the man’s passion for the minutiae of employment legislation, but rather due to his much longer-standing addiction – the theatre.

Blackburn goes to the theatre most evenings. So when the chance came to become a judge for the Laurence Olivier Awards – the theatrical answer to the ­Baftas – he did not baulk at the prospect of seeing 78 plays and musicals in the course of a year.

It would be a tall order for most people, but given that besides his HR role he also has seats on ­Bakers’ diversity committee, LGBT focus group and management committee, Blackburn’s plate is clearly fuller than most people’s.

“I don’t know anyone who does as much as I do,” he muses. “But it’s not that different from if you have kids to pick up from school or go to choir practice or play football. You work around it.”
A former accountant with no background in the theatre, Blackburn’s passion was ignited when he first worked in London for Ernst & Young before moving to Bakers in 2007. He admits that the judging job has changed how he sees the theatre.

“There are 22 awards to judge,” he explains. “At first I had no idea what I was looking for when it came to something like best sound, but they brief you and bring you together through the year.”
The Olivier judging panel includes four theatre professionals and four members of the theatre-going public. For Blackburn, who had applied to be on the panel before winning his place at the start of last year, there could be no better time to take on the role.

“If you look at the theatre last year compared with around 10 years ago, it’s completely changed,” he says, warming to a favourite theme. “Back then you’d have struggled to see a play in the West End. But last year, or in the past few years, the balance has shifted – there are loads of plays and fewer musical revivals.”

Blackburn says the year has been filled with theatrical highlights. He picks out King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse with Derek Jacobi and All My Sons with David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker as particular high points, while his favourite new play was Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park.

“It was so good that I took one of the partners along to see it a second time,” he enthuses.

With spare tickets to the best plays in London, it is hardly surprising that Blackburn has been a popular figure at Bakers. He even took senior partner Gary Senior to see Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings at the National.

The year culminated in last month’s awards ceremony at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the subsequent after-party, where Blackburn rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of theatreland. But despite hanging out with the likes of Patrick Stewart and Rupert Everett, it was not the stars whose company he most enjoyed.

“Sheridan Smith’s mum was charming,” he remembers. “She speaks eight languages and is just an amazing woman.”

While he is happy to joke about his addiction to the theatre, Blackburn’s completist streak is not ­confined to that sphere. He also has every single number one single since he was born (The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women, if you were wondering) on his iPod.

“I just like things to be in order,” he explains sheepishly. “Maybe it’s the accountant in me.”

So perhaps that is the answer to his own question: he is not obsessive-­compulsive, but he is still an accountant, albeit an exceptionally cultured one.