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For the love of theatre?

SEDOS production of Candide

The word “amateur” seems to be disappearing. Pity because I’d really like to think that everyone working in this industry, paid or not, is in it for the love of it. Otherwise what’s the point? As it is companies such as Cambridge Operatic Society (CaOS) have long since dropped the A-word from their names because of negative connotations. And that’s a trend amongst “community” or “non-professional” companies all over the country.

This week I’ve seen two shows in which the performers were paid and two in which they weren’t. First came a Shakespeare Schools Festival four-play evening at Broadway Theatre in Catford. I was expecting to see two half hour plays (Macbeth and Measure for Measure) by own old secondary school, Sydenham High School but it was a lovely surprise to find “my” primary school, Rathfern, there too with A Winter’s Tale. All these youngsters are skilfully lead through the playmaking process by their teachers with support form SSF and the confidence, and team work in evidence was – as usual – remarkable. Amateur? Yes, but these kids were in a “proper” professional theatre having an experience which will stay with them for life so don’t knock it.

The next night I was off to the slick, entertaining, thoughtful, revival of Baddies the Musical at Unicorn Theatre where – obviously – the performers are earning their living. It was a completely different theatre experience from the previous night but not better or worse – just another thing.

On Thursday I saw one of SEDOS’s outstanding productions at Bridewell Theatre. Now SEDOS (Stock Exchange Drama and Operatic Society, long since open to people from all walks of life across London) never disappoints. Their Candide – with a thirteen piece band – certainly bears comparison with many a pro show. Stephen Russell is a mercurial natural as Voltaire/Pangloss and Emma Morgan hits every one of Cunegonde’s ridiculously high notes with gleeful, witty panache.

Finally, on Friday, I was at Michael Bhim’s angry new play Tuesday at the newly refurbished White Bear in Kennington. Four pro actors thrilled me with the quality of their acting although I was less taken with the play which I found structurally bitty. An interesting, varied week, then.

Amateur companies often have “resting” pros in their casts and professional companies – witness the RSC’s enlightened, imaginative Dream for the Nation tour last summer in which local amateurs played the Rude Mechanicals at each venue – are increasingly willing to work with people who have day jobs too.

The boundaries are blurring and a good thing too provided, of course, that unscrupulous producers don’t capitalise on the trend by not paying skilled trained actors for whom this is their only source of income.



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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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