At the risk of causing mortal offence to people I have no wish to upset, I want to pose a question. I'm asking it only because I don't know the answer.
On the way to seeking that answer, there's a preliminary question, and it's this: is the first duty of a theatre group to its ticket-buying supporters or to its subscription-paying members? The answer to that will determine the answer to the question that has been bugging me for quite some time and which continues to defy me to get off the fence because I don't know which side is the more deserving of my suppport.
It's this: should group members who are confined to wheelchairs play any roles that are not intended for people in wheelchairs?
I sense the hackles rising, but in the nature of things this is a question that is likely to face any group eventually, even if it has already proscribed itself by illegally banning people in wheelchairs from membership.
It came to my mind when, all unsuspecting, I saw a production about Robin Hood and his Sherwood Foresters. It was full of enthusiasm and not short of talent. And three members of the cast were in wheelchairs, which took me - and, I'm sure, many of the audience - completely by surprise. My own uncertainty was compounded by the realisation that the original Robin and Little John would perhaps have teetered in their breeches at finding themselves among wheelchairs, especially the electric variety.
Hard as I have tried in the intervening years, I have been unable to persuade myself that this was being fair to the patrons. Did they pay good money, only to discover that they were required to indulge in a massive suspension of disbelief?
I salute the guts and verve of those in the wheelchairs - but was there within them no sense that something was going adrift on the artistic front?
On the other hand, and there is always the other hand, should not those of us who are able to walk salute the determination that had put the wheelchair people in front of us, however surprisingly, and the generosity of spirit of the director who had backed their grit?
Of course we should - which is why I do not presume to know the answer to the question I am asking.
There are amateur theatre groups which already have wheelchair users in their membership, and I suggest that every group that does not have disabled members should require its committee to determine its attitude, in readiness for the day when its first wheelchair-bound applicant turns up seeking membership - because there is no reason on earth why it could not suddenly find itself suddenly faced with the urgent need to make a reasoned response.
* The Crescent Theatre begins its annual outdoor picnic pilgrimage to four attractive settings next Tuesday.
Its touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream starts at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where it will be presented nightly until June 26, then there will be a single performance at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens on June 28. After this, it will be at Hall's Croft, Stratford-upon-Avon, on July 5 and 6, followed by Harvington Hall, near Kidderminster, from July 18-20.
Patrons are asked to take their own seating.
Also hitting the road with Shakespeare is the excellent MDCC Theatre Company, which presented a fine production of
The Assassin at the Crescent last month. MDCC will be at the Forge Mill Museum, Redditch, on Saturday and Sunday with Henry V, which will then have two nights at Bromsgrove's Avoncroft Museum a week later.
July will find the production at Stowe House, Lichfield, and Dunstall Hall, Barton-under-Needwood, before it finishes where the Crescent Players will start, with its last four performances at Birmingham Botanical Gardens on July 16, 17, 23 and 24.
* Worcester's Swan Theatre Amateur Company will be in action next week with a hit play of special local significance.
Humble Boy was written by Charlotte Jones, who grew up in Worcester and was educated at St Mary's Convent School in the 1980s.
She wrote it for the National Theatre, which launched it in September 2001 with Diana Rigg and Simon Russell Beale Audiences and critics were united in their praise. It went on to an acclaimed seven-month run at the Gielgud Theatre (with Felicity Kendall in place of Diana Rigg) and emerged as the Critics' Circle's, and the People's Choice Best Play of 2002. Since then, it has international success.
STAC's cast includes Math Jones, who plays Felix Humble, and Sue Imms as Flora, his demanding mother. The production, directed by Frank Bench, runs from next Tuesday for the rest of the week. n Improving a theatre can be problematical.
From Essex, I hear that Brentwood Theatre, beavering away like billy-o, has raised nearly £300,000 to extend its dressing room accommodation. Work is due to begin on June 16 - but there's a problem.
The builders need some of the car park to use as a compound while building is taking place - so the theatre is temporarily going short.
A plea has therefore gone out on leaflets for local residents to provide four nearby car parking spaces until October in return for £50 a month - though if petrol prices continue their upward spiral I suppose it's possible that it won't be long before nobody can afford to drive a car to any temporary haven that may be offered.
* I am sure that this sort of thing must have been turned to good theatrical use already, but I have just been reminded of afriend who was alittle surprised to find that his bank account had been swelled by several million pounds.
It was too good to last, of course, and it transpired that in trying to transfer some money to him a company had entered his account number instead of the sum involved.
What brought my friend's fleeting good fortune to mind was Birmingham Civic Society's note to its members, confessing that it had got one digit wrong in the number of an account on a standing order form it had invited them to complete.
If it had not been belatedly spotted, someone somewhere could well have been wondering why his piggy bank was being generously topped up from all sorts of unexplained quarters. firstname.lastname@example.org
* WHAT'S ON
Beautiful Thing, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (to Saturday).
Albert, Make Us Laugh, Circle Players, Aldridge Youth Theatre (to Saturday).
Comic Potential, Highbury Little Theatre, Sutton Coldfield (to June 28).
Private Lives, Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield (June 19-28).
Hot Mikado, BMOS Youtheatre, Sutton Coldfield Town Hall (June 23-27).
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Crescent Theatre Players, Birmingham Botanical Gardens (June 24-26); Castle Bromwich Gardens (June 28).
Humble Boy, Swan Theatre Amateur Company, Swan Theatre, Worcester (June 24-28).
See How They Run, Priory Theatre, Kenilworth (June 25-July 5).
Henry V. MDCC Theatre Company, Forge Mill Needle Museum, Redditch (June 21 & 22); & Avoncroft Museum, Bromsgrove (June 28 & 29).