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Don’t knock amateur theatre

Hats off to amateur theatre and all who take part in it. There’s so much good work out there and it rarely gets the recognition it deserves – and I can only suppose that people who sneer at it are a) professionals who see it as a threat (in itself a compliment of sorts) or b) people who would never dare get up and have a go so they try to belittle those who do.

Last week I saw West Wickham Operatic Society’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Churchill Theatre, Bromley. And there’s a lot of it about. I’m due to review Cambridge Theatre Company’s take on the same show in July. What struck me about the WWOS show – in many ways, from the reaction of some of the more excitable women in the audience, a cross between The Chippendales and panto – was the enormous courage it takes for non professionals to mount a show like that in which many of the glitzy, skimpy male costumes leave little to the imagination. And the action is pretty demanding too. Director, Kevin Gauntlett is clearly very talented to be able to draw such commitment and panache from (mostly) non professionals.

Did I say “mostly”? Well, that’s the other thing about amateur theatre. The edges between it and professional theatre are pretty blurred these days. Trained actors want to tread the boards and get experience even if they haven’t (yet) been offered the coveted West End role. You frequently find actors with professional training working alongside the ones who did a history degree and now work in a museum or are NHS administrators. Adrian Morrissey, for example, who played Tick in the WWOS Priscilla graduated from Mountview in 2010. Larissa Webb, one of the Divas, is another Mountview graduate and Emma Brack, who was Shirley, has a BA in Performing Arts from London Met. Thus the trained and the untrained form a cohesive company and it’s a real joy to see them all working together.

Of course I review more professional shows than non-professional ones but I am increasingly unaware of the shrinking distinction. I’ve seen fine work in Central London from, among others, SEDOS and Geoids. All Gillingham Dramatic Society’s recent productions have been on my itinerary and I’m a bit of a groupie in Cambridge.

Coming up soon I have, among other things, the Lindley Players (another fine amateur company) with Boeing Boeing in Whitstable and  Pericles, courtesy of Shakespeare at The George, Huntingdon. What’s not to like?

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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