The Importance of Amateur Theatre

I love theatre, but amateur theatre is special. I grew up around amateur theatrics and it has always and will always have a space in my life. We’re lucky in Coventry and Warwickshire to have several theatres and even more amateur theatre companies in our area. These institutions fantastic centres of community involvement, they provide cheap drama classes for children and young people as well as encouraging community pride. They can be centres for socialising for older people, provide safe locations for teenagers and a hobby that a whole family can enjoy.

Needless to say I could talk about the wonders amateur theatre can bring, but I would rather talk about two plays have been to see recently. First was Dylan Thomas’s masterpiece for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ at The Loft in Leamington. While this play was originally written for radio, and is therefore performed as a static read piece the director, Loft artistic director Tim Willis, instead decided to create a full frenetic piece of theatre. Although some of Thomas’s beautiful language got lost in the movement I think that the difficult job of making a static play move is excellently done. Some of the performances were fantastic, a play for voices should feature them at the fore. This production does that. Definitely a ensemble piece it would feel unkind to single out one actor above the others. Each part of the on stage team works with the others, making ‘Under Milk Wood’ a slick performance to watch. At the beginning of the play there were beautiful graphics projected on the sky cloth behind the play. These were eventually replaced by seaside footage. The graphics were beautiful and very much on the pulse of the graphic design zeitgeist, my only complaint would be that its a shame they were temporary. Overall the piece was charming, arresting and thoughtful, as ‘Under Milk Wood’ is meant to be.

The next play was ‘Thrill of Love’ by Amanda Whittington at The Criterion Theatre in Coventry. A play about the crime and punishment of the last woman to be hanged in England, Ruth Ellis, this was a play and performance of a completely different tone. ‘Under Milk Wood’ is a charming, whimsical and often comic piece about rural Wales, thoughtful and charming. Set in the 1950’s, ‘Thrill of Love’ is a gritty and unflinching study of domestic violence, capital punishment, the consequences of such violence and the prejudices of the time. The play focuses less on the moral questions surrounding the highest level of capital punishment and more of the horrific existence of the nightclub hostess’s of the 1950’s. This pin-up, playboy existence seems so glamorous from the outside, especially with the current fashion for 1950’s womanhood. This play shows the darker side to this existence; one of violence, domestic abuse, forced or coerced sexual acts, unwanted pregnancies and miscarriages. One of the better piece of casting in this play is Lucy Hayton as Ruth Ellis. Hayton holds an MA in gender studies and this is evident in the understanding, empathy and pathos that she bring to a very difficult role. Together with Doreen Belton’s excellent direction, this is central to what makes this piece work. Any one with less understanding of Ruth Ellis’s suffering and the consequences of them would ruin this play from the beginning. Luckily this doesn’t happen, and Lucy Hayton is surrounded by a talented and supportive cast throughout

While I would certainly say that the first evening was more fun, both were excellent examples of theatre. One of the best bits of amateur theatre is the devotion and passion put into the productions. What it lacks in time and budget it tends to make up in love and devotion to the craft. If you add that to the fantastic place these companies holds in the community it amounts to a wonderful thing. I hope that all of the amateur theatre companies in Coventry and Warwickshire continue to produce theatre a captivating and thought provoking as the two performances I have seen.

Under Milk Wood and Thrill of Love close on Saturday. Tickets for the Loft are available here. Tickets for The Criterion Theatre here.

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