In praise of am-dram


We’ve just had a marvellous few days.  We trooped over the Pennines, together with Emily-from-Barcelona, to see the Bolton branch of the family.

This was no run-of-the-mill visit though.  No, we’d chosen this particular weekend because 8-year-old grandson Alex was playing feisty little Gavroche in a production of ‘Les Miserables’.  Not only were the actors all amateurs, but all were young people under the age of 18.  They played to a packed house for five nights in a row.  Now you don’t get packed houses by relying on proud parents, devoted grannies, supportive uncles, aunts and cousins.  You get packed houses because there’s a wider public who recognise talent and commitment, and are prepared to pay to see it, even if it’s not a ‘professional’ production.

Here's Alex as Gavroche ((S &J Walkden Photography)

Here’s Alex as Gavroche (S &J Walkden Photography)

As the potted biographies in the programme demonstrated, many of the young people on stage last week hope to be the professional performers of the future.  They’ve already shown they have much of what it takes.  Like many professional actors, they rehearse during the evenings and at weekends so they can work round the day-job: in their case school.  Like professional companies, amateur groups use the ticket income generated to pay for sets costumes, publicity, printing and the like.  Many groups even perform in the same venues as their professional cousins. The distinctions between the two become ever hazier.

 Alex, like twin brother Ben, is a junior member of C.A.T.S., a youth theatre group in Bolton whose senior members put on two productions a year. It certainly turns out some talented performers, but that isn’t the main aim.  It’s much more about teaching children and teenagers new skills, and developing their confidence in a supportive environment.  Some young people may eventually find their interest lies more on the technical side: lighting and  so on, others in developing scenery.  Yet others will use the lessons learnt there in fields utterly unrelated to the stage. For both young and adult groups however, amateur dramatics, whether you’re acting, sewing costumes, selling tickets or stuck in the prompt corner, is a real means of being part of a purposeful, busy and enriching community.  Ben and Alex’s mum Elinor should know: she’s usually to be found engaged in some production or other in the thriving Bolton am-dram world.

I never came across amateur dramatics in France.  It seems a quintessentially English activity.  In the village where I now live, the Arts Society sits alongside WI membership, cricket, book groups and so on as a real focus for village life.  This weekend, everybody will be crowded in to the  hall as the Arts Society puts on ‘Blood Brothers’, for two nights only.

And afterwards, everyone has to come back to earth.  Adrenalin gone, late nights having taken their toll, it’s time to take a breather.  But only till the next time.  Am-dram is a drug, and addictive for performers and audience alike.

The grand finale of 'Les Miserables'. That's Alex, waving the flag. (S &J Walkden photography)

The grand finale of ‘Les Miserables’. That’s Alex, waving the flag. (S &J Walkden photography)

12 thoughts on “In praise of am-dram

  1. on comprend pourquoi tu nous a quittés. La vie de famille ne peut pas se refuser. Bravo Alex!


  2. Les Mis is a pretty ambitious show for pure amateurs! It must’ve been such fun! And that little guy looks perfect for the role he had–such a twinkle in the eye!


  3. He was made for the part! I think it’s often villages that keep am dram alive. We lived for several years in a village with a very active pantomime society. Andrew ran the sound team, moving the whole thing forward to the 20th century! But the nice thing was how so many people were involved, particularly the primary school. Many of those children who stood on stage surreptitiously waving to their parents at the age of 6 are now adults keeping the whole thing going.


    1. Yes, we’re in that kind of a village now, and it’s lovely. Bolton however is a thriving am-dram town and it’s got quite a lot of groups that could put professionals to shame. It was a revelation when we first started going to things my daughter was in to see just how good amateur dramatics can be.


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