John Slim tours the world of amateur theatre.

Who is Malcolm Hinchcliffe? Birmingham's Crescent Theatre has somehow acquired him - but he does not in fact exist in the day-today world of the canalside venue.

He arrived, so to speak, unexpectedly earlier in the year, when one of the amateur musical groups that stage their shows at the Crescent got hold of technician Graham Hollinshead's mobile telephone number and left a message asking how many toilets there were in the dressing rooms - and called him Malcolm Hinchcliffe.

By now, he has given up trying to correct it. On the telephone, he tells them that he's Graham but they always end the conversation by saying, "See you soon, Malcolm."

And they're gradually wearing him down. I understand that he has used his involuntary nom de plume as the caption on his official photograph that is featured among those of other members of theatre staff.

Anything for the quiet life, eh... Malcolm?

There seem to be plenty of chuckles in store at the Barlow Theatre, Langley, in the coming season, courtesy of some bright writers, a strong company and whoever selects the programme for Oldbury Repertory Players.

Four of the seven plays that will be staged between next month and February are comedies. Comedies, that is, in the rough-and-ready sense that they will provide laughter, rather than in the strictly technical interpretation that they don't incorporate any deaths - which would, in a perfect world, turn them into tragedies.

Interestingly, all three exceptions are adaptations from original stories and they form an uninterrupted wedge as the second, third and fourth offerings of the season.

One is Strangers on a Train, Craig Warner's adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith thriller that became a classic Hitchcock film (November 11-18). Another is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C S Lewis, adapted by Glynn Robins (January 10-20). And the third is 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helen Hanff, based on the book by James Roose-Evans (March 10-17).

And the chuckles?

They start with John Godber's Perfect Pitch (September 23-20), whose title could lead the unwary into thinking it was another of those highly-successful plays based on life behind the scenes at an amateur operatic society. It isn't: it is set in a caravan park and the action is very much up front.

It is not one that I've seen, but I hope it is an improvement on Godber's Fly Me to the Moon , which I have now seen twice without being impressed - and more in accord with his customary very amusing standard.

After the laughter has subsided for three successive shows, May brings Art, by Yasmina Reza, which won an Evening Standard best comedy award. This will be followed in July by Are You Being Served?, which Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft have adapted from their own popular television series, and then in February by a studio production of Charles Dyer's Rattle of a Simple Man.

Are You Being Served? which is new to the amateur circuit, will also be presented by Rugby Thea-tre, from September 2-9.

And so to comedy that is still in the script stage: another David Tristram offering, A Bolt from the Blue, has been published by Flying Ducks Publications and is available immediately for amateur production.

It involves a perfectly ordinary man who has been doing perfectly ordinary things until the eve of his 40th birthday.

As this is a Tristram, I have every confidence that his normal output of very amusing plays will prove to have been maintained. In this connection, I remain perplexed that a writer whose come-dies and farces are acclaimed on a global basis seems to be almost sidelined in his own country.

Having said that, however, there have been a welcome handful of Tristram productions in the region in recent months, so perhaps all is not yet lost. If your group has not yet discovered him, please take a look - starting, perhaps, with one of his farcical Inspector Drake series.

The Witches of Eastwick has been released for amateur production as a result of a dozen pilot runs in various parts of Britain, including one by West Bromwich Operatic Society.

Rightsholder Josef Weinberger says that from the first amateur try-out - in Bristol - it was emphatically proved that the technical demands do not prelude amateur production. Indeed, its latest brochure refers to Bristol Light Opera Club as "the first amateur company to produce the show (spectacularly so)".

Also new to amateurs is the musical Just So, based on five of Rudyard Kipling's stories, and Monkey's Uncle, by David Lewis, described as a side-splitting farce for the 21st Century - again, from Weinberger.

Worcester's Swan Theatre is organising backstage tours of the venue at 2pm today and on Tuesday August 22, at 7.30pm.

They will take up to two hours and can be booked at the box office for £5 (concessions, £4).


One Fine Day, Swan Theatre Amateur Company, King's School, Worcester (until tomorrow).

April in Paris, Swan Theatre Amateur Company, Swan Theatre, Worcester (Aug 22-26).