Please, Spare Me Your Amateur Theatricals
I have some friends who think they live in the 1930s. They are delightful companions until after a meal, when, suddenly imagining that they reside in Downton Abbey, they arrange impromptu post-dinner performances that suddenly involve a stage, instruments and costumes. To make matters worse they are all talented, having had the right education for this sort of thing. But when such a moment occurs I tend to melt away. A bawdy recital of ‘The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck’ is one thing, but vocal selections from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’Amore is a step too far.
There is a sense of imposition when someone at the party breaks out his Spanish guitar. You are required to show appreciation. Perhaps it’s more a matter of being too English about such things. The Welsh happily sing, the Scots are always up for a dance and you can’t shut the Irish up, but the English stand about awkwardly with their empty wineglasses, unsure what to do with themselves.
In Lockdown the press has turned with an air of desperation to the idea of amusez-vous bien with a vengeance. There are endless articles about Things To Make And Do. The New York Times has even suggested that pastime of last resort, the jigsaw.
Amateur theatricals are the absolut derrière as Molesworth would say, and a wonderfully awful selection can be found on YouTube. A friend of mine belonged to an amateur group called the Putney Players, who decided to stage ‘Abigail’s Party’ – a tricky play to pull off at the best of times – and performed it as a thigh-slapping farce, thus completely wrecking it.
There’s a wonderful book by Kate Dunn about touring in bad productions called ‘Exit Through The Fireplace’, including Polonius’s ad lib to cover for Ophelia’s no-show in a scene; ‘Where is that blasted girl? I bet she’s down by the river again.’
And the fairy godmother covering her inability to get the door of Cinderella’s cottage open: ‘You go off to the ball, Cinderella, I think I’ll stick around here for a while.’
I had a friend whose energetically directed amateur productions revealed his lack of aptitude for the theatre. His futuristic Gilbert & Sullivan opera ‘Starship Pinafore’ was a disaster partly because the hornpipe looks silly when danced in spacesuits.
Being a hunter-gatherer, I always collected press scraps. I found a yellowed newspaper clipping on the subject of amateur theatricals yesterday that’s worth reprinting in full;
‘A production of Hamlet by the Keswick Polytechnic includes the following changes: ‘The text has been cut to 15 minutes because there are several other things on the bill,’ and retitled Hamlette ‘because we could only get two male actors’ said Miss Joanna Ripe, the director. ‘The whole thing is set in a nunnery,’ she explained. ‘We gave Claudia, Hamlette’s aunt, most of Polonius’s lines because she learned his part by mistake.’
Miss Ripe has added several new parts to the play; Joyce, Hamlette’s sister, Dinah the Blackamore, whose part is made up of lines taken from the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet ‘with the dirt removed’, and Louise, a girl disguised as a male deaf mute who drowns herself ‘in a fit of pique’.
I think I’d have paid to see that.