Reflecting on the notion of belonging for my last post brought to mind various groups I’ve belonged to over the years. Some of my fondest memories come from the 1980’s when I was a member of the Company of 12, an amateur drama group near London.
Amateur drama – playgroup for adults! Well maybe, but don’t let the legions of amateur thesbians hear you! In truth, it could be said that the only difference between the professional and non-professional theatres is the small matter of getting paid – there are plenty of amateur companies who put on productions to a professional standard in “real” theatres. Paid or not, everyone does it for love – of drama, of performance, of the sheer madness of dressing up and pretending to be someone else to entertain an audience. What’s not to love?
Of course I’m not saying that the Company of 12 – or other Am Dram groups up and down the land – was brim full of budding Judy Dench’s or Ian McKellans just waiting to be discovered and whisked away to the West End or Hollywood. But we did take it very seriously and made the best we could of the talent we had, such as it was! We worked very hard and had lots of fun along the way. Here’s me rehearsing my drinking-a-cup-of-tea technique.
One of the things our group used to do was to get up a show and take it “on tour” to local old folks homes, where the residents would like nothing better than joining in with selections of songs from the musicals and hits from the forties and fifties that were all the rage when they were young – we knew our audience! One time, we took the guise of a group of market traders, each telling their story in turn, with accompanying medley of songs. Here’s me, second left, in my persona as “Second Hand Rose”.
I used to be just as interested in the production side of things as in performing and was never happier than when I was rummaging through boxes of fabric, feathers and foam looking for inspiration for the latest wacky prop or costume. I was very proud of the giant pizza we made for “Mr Macaroni and the Exploding Pizza Pie”, not to mention a haunted wardrobe which featured in one of our Christmas Pantos (large cardboard box with small boy inside spookily moving a candlestick from side to side).
But, prop-wise, the absolute piece de resistance was the larger-than-life-size pie we made for Sing a Song of Sixpence – an utter triumph of engineering constructed from cardboard, chicken wire and papier mache, topped off with a beautiful varnished crust and big enough to slice open and allow the 24 blackbirds (members of the dancing school) to emerge and flutter around the stage. I WISH I still had a picture of that pie, but all I have is this snap of myself and my friend Pam in the early stages of construction. This is the have-we-bitten-off-more-than-we-can-chew moment.
Apart from the pie episode, I think my finest hour drama-wise, was when I landed the role of Madame Souffle in the Company’s production of Share and Share Alike, a “proper” play with music. My French accent (yes, French accent!) was probably excruciating, and my voice thin, but it was a proper part with a solo and I loved it. As I did when I had a chance to write and direct some of the travelling shows. There was always a point in my productions where some bright spark would pipe up “I know! Let’s put on a show in the old barn! (school hall / library / dining room)” and thereby bring all the warring factions together to solve whatever was the crisis of the day, in true dramatic spirit.
These days you’ll find me, the most enthusiastic member of the audience, attending performances my grandchildren are involved in. And I’m not the only person to believe that life without Drama in it just wouldn’t be worth living…