Raise the curtain light the lights

After my early initiation into the world of greasepaint and spotlights it is no surprise that I fell in love with the theatre.

Being a member of the Little Theatre in Rhyl certainly helped feed my passion.

I enjoyed being backstage, or up in the lighting box, or just as a member of the audience, as much as I enjoyed being onstage.

When I moved over to the Rhyl Journal I had more opportunities to indulge my passion.

As I have said before I had grown up with theatre and performers. In the summer it became quite normal to see comedians, musicians and other entertainers in our shop.

We were just a stone’s throw from the promenade and Dad stocked a full range of Leichner stage makeup (which came in handy when I started treading the boards).

A typical actor’s box of stage makeup

Heinz Burt, Harry Secombe, Morton Fraser’s Harmonica Gang, the Beatles and many more brought the magic of the stage into our shop.

But Rhyl had far more than the professionals at the established theatres, the Pavilion, the Queen’s, the Amphitheatre and the Coliseum.

It was a hotspot of amateur drama from am dram groups to operatic societies and even school drama productions.

I had plenty of opportunity to review professionals and amateurs during my three years in my home town.

At the Little Theatre Joe Holroyd and Angela Day always drilled into us that the only real difference between professional performers and amateurs was that amateurs did not have to make a living out of it.

I can still remember Angela saying: “If people pay to see you act then you have to give them their money’s worth.

“It’s no good saying ‘We’re only amateurs’ – you are actors and they are paying to see you.”

It is a maxim I have always gone by whether I have been onstage or in the audience.

As a reviewer I have always made allowances for the amount of experience the performers show. After all you could not judge a school’s nativity play on the basis of a West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Even in professional theatre there are levels of performance. Actors such as Ian McKellen, John Thaw, Siân Phillips or Judi Dench will almost always outshine the juvenile lead in a touring weekly rep group.

It did mean that when I went to review Rhyl Liberty Players, or the Little Theatre’s Group 200 or the Rhyl and District Amateur Operatic Society I expected a certain standard of professionalism.

I proffered bouquets when they were deserved but I had brickbats to hand if the performance was below par.

I remember being particularly scathing about one amateur dramatic group when they performed an am-dram favourite (I think it was Blithe Spirit).

The play was poorly performed and poorly presented and I did not pull my punches.

From a stuttering star to lacklustre lighting I let rip.

Naturally I picked up on anything which was properly presented, even if it was just the character of a maidservant who did little more than bring in a tray of tea and sandwiches, or open the curtains to let the “sunlight” in.

When the paper was published that week I checked to see what the subs had done with my stories, after all that is how you learn.

Some had been tweaked to bring up a point I had not seen as important, others remained verbatim.

When I got to the review of the play, however, I was appalled to see that it bore little resemblance to the piece I had written and was now just an anodyne puff piece which did little more than say: “Didn’t they do well”.

I went straight to see Brian, the editor, a very affable man, and told him that I was annoyed because someone who clearly had no idea of the theatre had subbed my review into an almost unrecognisable piece of hagiography.

Once I had finished he said: “I changed it. After all they are just an amateur group.”

Naturally he had taken the wind out of my sails but I still managed to make my point about there being no real difference between amateur and professional.

Brian agreed with me but also pointed out that the actors were also readers and sometimes advertisers.

In the end we came to an agreement that I would tone down some of my harsher judgments in future but that if a review was dramatically changed then my name would not be pinned to it.

Brian and I remained friends and I made up to him for my comment about “having no idea of theatre” by giving him a dozen mackerel for his freezer when next we did some fishing from the Rhyl Yacht Club launch.

After that I did lighten up in my reviews and always looked for some good even if the majority was bad.

I still apply my thoughts about giving your money’s worth, however.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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