Sometimes, I worry about the carefree way in which some theatre groups approach their responsibilities to the people who have written the plays or musicals with which they plan to divert their patrons.
My Fair Lady was presented by dozens of societies last year to mark its half-century, and I can quite understand why a director, faced with the job of preparing yet another one, should foresee an audience beset by a blanket of boredom.
But this is a responsibility that must be laid, not at the door of the director but at that of any group that nevertheless opts to inflict this excellent but currently overworked show on its loyal patrons. It is not the duty of the director to ease audience anguish at the expense of the wishes of the scriptwriter, playwright or composer.
Indeed, any group that boldly messes about with what is on the printed page could be in danger of being "blacked" by the rightsholder concerned and possibly by other rightsholders, too. There is a story of a performance that was stopped when a rightsholder’s representative suddenly stood up in the audience and explained precisely why it could not be allowed to continue. It is possibly apocryphal, but it does point an awful warning.
So when I hear of a forthcoming My Fair Lady that plans to stage Alfred Doolittle’s eve-of-wedding celebrations inside the pub instead of outside in the street, have the flower girls wandering through the audience and enliven the classic Ascot scene with a racing commentary that will culminate in the win for Dover, Eliza’s fancied horse, I do indeed worry.
For the sake of the group concerned, I point out that it is not a defence to say that it is being done for the sake of the audience. After all, the audience does not have to turn up if it doesn’t want to. This may well cause problems for the group’s piggy bank – but the group certainly cannot afford to find itself unnecessarily burdened in future with problems about finding somebody who will entrust it with a show.
If you want to know what the local big professional theatres are likely to be presenting, it may not be a bad idea to check with Walsall Operatic Society.
On March 13, WOS will be at the Lichfield Garrick, starting its run of 42nd Street – and at the same time, the touring production will be opening at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, a few miles down the road. If there are suspicions that this sort of thing is becoming a habit, it is because last year’s WOS show was Anything Goes – which happened during the run of the nautical romp at Birmingham Hippodrome.
It’s not as though it’s easy for an amateur group to coincide with a professional production in its immediate vicinity. Indeed, once a professional show’s tour dates are arranged, it often means that the show concerned is completely withdrawn from the amateur calendar. Walsall’s secret is to get its claim in early.
Chairman Maureen Woodcock said: "It came as a bit of a surprise when I saw the Grand’s brochure advertising 42nd Street, not only in the same month but in the same week. Ours will be better, of course...
"We applied for the licence, as we always do, 12 months in advance, and we got it. And last year, we had obtained the
licence for Anything Goes before the tour had been announced."
It seems as if it’s easy, when you know how!
Two members of Sutton Blues Collective, Steve Hartnoll and Iain Darby, will be breaking new ground in playing the blues for Highbury Little Theatre's production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which opens on May 22.
Steve and Iain, regulars of Sutton Blues Collectives sessions at the Station Inn, Sutton Coldfield, were approached by the play's director, Claire Armstrong Mills, to provide authentic blues music on stage before every performance of the Tennesse Williams classic, which is set in Mississippi, the home of the blues.
Misery, Swan Theatre Amateur Company, Swan Theatre, Worcester (to Saturday).
Closer, The Nonentities, Rose Theatre, Kidderminster (to Saturday).
The Thickness of Skin, Birmingham School of Acting, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (to Saturday).
Hello Again, Birmingham School of Acting, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (Feb 22-24).
Les Miserables (Schools Edition), SOSage Factory, Solihull Library Theatre (Mar 1-3).
Party Piece, Carrs Lane Players, Carrs Lane Church, Birmingham (Mar 1-3).