AFTER 27 years, Chipping Norton Youth Theatre bade farewell to its director.

Joanna Higgins has helped thousands of youngsters including Rupert Friend, best-known for his starring role as Peter Quinn in Homeland.

Mr Friend told the Oxford Mail: "William Shakespeare wrote 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em'.

"More impressive are those who give their greatness to others.

"I am, of course, talking about teachers.

"Anyone lucky enough to have had a great teacher should celebrate them.

"Joanna Higgins was director of the Chipping Norton Youth Theatre for more than 27 years.

"She retired this June having enriched the lives of thousands of young people, one of whom was me.

"I was heavily bullied as a child. Like many kids, my outside didn't match my inside, and like many kids, I was desperate for a safe place to unleash what was inside without being mocked, laughed at or beaten up.

"It's difficult to describe exactly what the youth Theatre was under Jo's leadership.

"We did not put on plays in the traditional sense.

"We didn't study text, we definitely didn't study Stanislavski, Lecoq or Brecht, and yet she explored elements of all these practitioners’ work through her own unique style of teaching.

"In so doing, she encouraged me to develop the single most important tool an actor can have: imagination.

"It's the tool I use every single day of my life.

"We would be given a scenario, or a character, or just the task of getting something from another character whose task it was not to give it up.

"We would then be sent off in small groups to huddle up and figure it out.

"I remember Jo taking me aside after class once and saying with a smile, 'you don't ever want to play the same thing twice do you?'

"'How could I?!' I bubbled over- 'there are just so many characters!'

"Will you write some down for me?' she said.

"I sat in the corner waiting for my ride and covered four pages with descriptions of imaginary people; my terrible handwriting struggling to keep up as they poured out of my head.

"Each year at Christmas, Jo would host a dinner at her home for the older students, with wine and home-cooked food.

"We felt like her contemporaries.

"She never spoke down to us, never presumed we knew less.

"She shared in our discoveries, was thrilled at our inventions.

"She taught me – and countless others – to use our limitless imaginations, and she gave us somewhere to fail safely.

"I will always be grateful to her for that."