A lot have people have taken this heading for the A to Z Challenge today.
Perhaps it’s because whatever we choose to write about, we have a lot to be grateful for in our chosen field on blogging. Mine is amdram, so who should I be thanking?
If you hate the ‘all about me posts’ pass over this one and head straight to ‘H’ tomorrow. For those who feel nosey, come along for the ride as I thank (at least) two people from every production ever…
In 2004 I appeared for the first time with the Shiphay Amateur Dramatic Society in the SDDF Award winning ‘Pickwick Papers’. I was fortunate to be given my first big break by Nigel Howells (who this week directs another Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, at the Little Theatre, Torquay). Meanwhile, I was given a warm welcome by the company, but I am most grateful to John F Shorter, the only other twentysomething chap in the cast, for keeping me as sane as I was going to be.
So put off was I by that performance, I did not return to the stage until 2006. Then, with the same company I was cast in, ‘Last Tango in Whitby’. There I am grateful to Dorothy Pemble, the best dance partner a young man would ever need. Also to Ted Parker, who kept a rowdy audience in check through funnier performances – nearly having to remove some of my family, who laughed in the serious bits.
The same year in ‘California Suite’ I must thank the two ladies who appeared in my scene, Louise Bourton and Rachael-Elizabeth Broadhurst for all the fun and games. This brought my first experience of seeing somebody else suffer from first night nerves and led me to be haunted by the line ‘oh yeah, I bled on the carpet, Stu’ forever more.
‘Cinderella Goes West’ was my first pantomime in 2007, where I must thank Pat Bidder for the opportunity to appear in a show that she wrote, directed and was reviving on the strength of its previous success – it really is a great script! Here I will also thank Mark Gillham, who was the fourth member of my ‘California Suite’ scene, and the only young man I have appeared on stage with in Torquay who I really thought knew what he was doing and wasn’t just playing at it.
With ‘Trivial Pursuits’ I must thank Pat Gillies and Peter Davis, with whom I laughed my way through one of the biggest and funniest parts I’d ever get to play. Again, I feel haunted by a line, “I’ve never seen anyone look less like a nun.” It’s a Frank Vickery play about a musical society, my advice is stage it – it’s bonkers.
By 2008 it was back to pantomime with ‘Rumpelstiltskin.com’ and here I will be eternally grateful to work colleague, Sarah Carson, for stepping into the am dram world for one play only to become the perfect pantomime princess. I must also thank director Jan Pitwell for letting David Jackson and I have most of the songs – we loved it!
With ‘On the Razzle’ my thanks go to Olive Bennett, who provided some of the most astonishing props (and a lifetime of cups of tea through the years of amdram at Shiphay!), and Alan Tanner, whose performance as Zangler taught me more about comic timing than anything else I’ve been involved with. Oh, fine, so Brenda and Jo Loosemore were pretty instructive too!
For ’1984′ I got my first chance to play a serious baddie, in this adaptation of the George Orwell novel. Here I played O’Brien, and I will always be grateful to Lee-James Bovey and Georgia Brooks who were castmates playing Winston Smith and Julia, for being fun to torture and torment. You can’t buy laughs like that. You can’t.
This was the year I got my first part with the TOADS Theatre Company in Torquay. I played William in ‘Katherine Howard’ and had two wonderful lines to deliver. Here my thanks must go to Nigel Howells, for letting me have a part in another of his plays despite all the horrible things I say about being in ‘Pickwick Papers’, and The Courtenay Players, with whom I got to bang a drum during the dance scenes. That’s right, I play instruments too.
Back to Shiphay for pantomime in 2009 and the ‘New Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. Here I was delighted to be a part of the chorus, and the fun and games came from appearing with John Rea, Dominic Cook and John F Shorter. We were very badly behaved, but they taught me how much fun you can have when there’s no pressure to learn lines and you can spend all your time trying to make the main cast laugh.
Back at the Little Theatre with the TOADS in the Noel Coward classic, ‘Present Laughter’ I must thank Stephanie Austin for letting me go over the top as Roland Maule, and Martin Austen, who played Garry Essendine, the central character. Together they were another warm welcome to a theatre and the production brought me my first and only good review in the local press.
Off stage my directing debut came with ‘Love Me Slender’ again at Shiphay ADS. Here the list of ‘thank you’s is endless, but the easiest must be to Hilary Gameson and Danielle Nixon, who both stepped into parts with two or three weeks to go to hold the show together. Forever in their debt. The whole cast were wonderful but those girls pulled a miracle.
By ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ the 2010 Shiphay pantomime my thanks are firmly at the door of Annie Parker and Pat Gillies, who were my long-suffering wardrobe mistresses and dressers. It was my debut as Dame and they made sure I looked fabulous. A big hurrah to them.
When we took on ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ in 2010 it seemed like we had bitten off more than we could chew. Through this production it was Richard Green that kept me laughing with a delightfully dark sense of humour, and Jonathan Waterworth that had the vision to bring a scaffold tower into a church hall. I could have cried. I think I did.
By ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ I was finishing my only full season as Chairman at Shiphay. By this time I had begun to understand that you couldn’t get through a production without techies and backstage folk, so my fond thank you is to Louis Sullivan on lights and Jonathon Cook on sound!
At ‘Mansfield Park’ I must thank Margaret Baker who was my first ever line buddy and Carole King, who made a jacket to measure out of a pair of beautiful velvet curtains.
My second Dame was Widow Twanky in ‘Aladdin’ with the TOADS Theatre Company. In this production it was the chorus that kept me laughing, so stepping away from choosing two names I must thank Di Stokes, Paulette Perrin, Fiona Humphreys and Jean Tolchard, Jason Davey and Nathan Samuel, Sophie Cartwright, Jessica Thacker, Mary Clifford and Sarah Dickinson. They sang like nobody you’ve ever heard, they danced like nothing you had ever seen and they gave it beans. I adored this pantomime and this chorus.
In 2011 we brought an odd play to Shiphay with ‘Speaking in Tongues’. Here I am grateful to John Miles for letting us bring it to Brixham (although I doubt Brixham were too chuffed we did!) and to Jill Coram, the adjudicator for the SDDF who came and gave it a very honest critique. I would restage this with the same cast tomorrow if I could. But I’d be the only one who’d want to.
Back at the Little Theatre again with ‘Black Widow’ it was a joy to eat sandwiches with David Gent at the wake each night and I am reminded of the big laugh during one performance where Camille Herbert hit her walking stick so hard on the card table the stick broke in half. Part of the stick was launched across the room with a crowd-pleasing bounce. Watching everyone else keep it together on stage whilst the audience erupted into laughter is the happy memory I have of that production. Hurrah.
In contrast, ‘Picasso at the Lapin-Agile’ was laughter from start to finish, but here I must thank Liz McGinnes for letting me be a bit part who built his part up every night as Schmendimann. Here I also thank Richard Bearne for hosting a memorable after show party (please take this as a thank you that extends to everyone that has hosted an aftershow party I have crashed – it takes something to rival the Hilary Gameson Shiphay parties, but this one came very close!).
In the summer of 2011 I found Shakespeare with the Countess Wear Community Theatre. We toured a range of venues with ‘Romeo and Juliet’. For this production I am grateful to Judy Impey for wonderful baking (again, extend this to anyone who has baked rehearsal refreshments) and Angie Gray for a wonderful costume.
In the autumn it was with Bijou Theatre Productions I was a part of ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’. Here I must thank Di Davies for persuading Maggie Campbell to let me into her cast and Lydia Dockray for making me laugh too much in rehearsals.
In 2012 and ‘As You Like It’ you will have had the chance to read a blow by blow account of my thoughts, starting at the charity night right through the run, as I was seriously blogging here. In this production it is Ben Tisdall and Becca Lamburn that I recall watching with interest every night. They made me feel like I was part of a company that were learning, growing and having fun week in week out.
Another summer, another tour, and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Theseus with the Countess Wear Community Theatre. This time it was the four lovers, Sam Emmerson, Zoe Callon, Harry Boyd and Jeanie Scott that impressed and made me want to be better than I am.
At this point, I throw in a passing nod to the extraordinary performance Jeanie Scott gave in a student production of ‘Mary Stuart’ not long after our run was complete, there was certainly great talent here.
And another stunning robe from Angie Gray, just a shame there are other people in the picture to stop you seeing the full length.
And so I come up to date with ‘Miss Julie’ at the TOADS Theatre Company this year. I know I should be thanking Lisa Fletcher for putting up with my not learning lines in her scenes and Di ffitch for casting me twice, but these must play runner up. In this production it was stage manager, Peter West, and Miss Julie, Hannah Samuel, who knew more than everyone else and kept me going. And so I extend that to the friends we make in amdram, who are splendid fellows, on stage and off stage.
If you’ve come this far, thank you for your indulgence. And thank you to all the prompts, I love you all.
A final special thank you must go to Tony Pinches, the man who introduced me to this hobby in the first place. We duelled in ‘Pickwick Papers’, he was my butler in ’1984′, married me to Stephanie Austin in ‘Black Widow’ and played Adam to my Orlando in ‘As You Like It’. If we could all be half the gentleman I have known performing with him, the amateur world would be a happy place indeed.
Next year ‘G’ will be for Gratitude, as this was a lot of fun to write.
The majority of the pictures here are by Brian Tilley Photography. The CWCT pictures are by Peter Pojuner. The Mansfield Park, Rumpelstiltskin and Black Widow pictures are anybody’s guess. But let me know and I’ll be sure to thank them.