Theatre Royal – Break A Leg

We are a long way from the bright lights of London’s West End but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a regular night at the theatre in West Cumbria.

I have been lucky enough to attend a few shows at Workington’s charming Theatre Royal this year and it made me wonder how much work is required to put on a four-night run?

Hundith Hill

Workington Playgoers put on eight shows every year and Maggie Bedford, who is an actor and assistant director, explained a lot goes on behind the scenes bringing a production to the stage: “Rehearsals start around eight weeks before but planning starts well before that, perhaps back to the previous year. We are lucky because there are a lot of people in our area with very good theatrical knowledge and training. I don’t, although I was a teacher for 40 years and if you can stand in front of a class with a straight face then it’s probably the best training there is.”

The Playgoers are volunteers and their skills cover everything from acting, directing, stage management, sound and light production, set building and costume design through to manning the box office and bar.

I spent a night at rehearsals for their recent production of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ and I was amazed by the attention to detail.  Taking a seat in the auditorium on opening night, you’re unaware of the array of decisions and thought given to positioning props, timing stage exits and entries along with the reactions, positions and timings of the actors themselves. The production has been analysed and streamlined long before the curtain rises.

Rebecca Wilson, who played the title role Geraldine Grainger, explained the dedication needed: “It’s very involved and it’s not just a case of coming in for rehearsals. We will meet up with other actors and practise our lines. If I thought about it, I’d estimate it at over 100 hours per show.”

Jim Samson played David Horton and he explained why he loves performing: “When the production comes together and you have convinced the audience you are the characters, there isn’t a feeling like it. We do it because we love it. It’s like a family and we become very close friends.”

Former maths teacher, Tony Parker, was the director and his involvement in amateur dramatics stretches back to 1970. He calculates he has around 100 productions under his belt, with 25 as a director: “Some people do it for the camaraderie and some for the sense of achievement but others like a chance to be another character altogether. Planning began back in July for this December production, it’s intensive but I like the problem-solving and challenges of directing.”

The Playgoers has plenty of great actors and many are involved with other groups across Cumbria. “We also have an excellent youth group,” says Maggie. “But many of them go off to study drama, so the problem is we never get to keep them for very long.”

The next Theatre Royal Youth (TRY) production is a play called ‘Tuesday’, by Alison Carr. It will be on from 6th to 8th February, as part of the National Theatre Connections drama festival for people aged 13 to 19. TRY will perform it at the Theatre Royal and then possibly Manchester. If their production is selected, they’re hoping to take it to the National Theatre after that.

It’s based on an ordinary Tuesday when the kids are out in the schoolyard, a large rip appears in the sky and pupils and staff are sucked upwards while a whole new set of people start raining down. Worlds have collided.

Confusion reigns as ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ try to work out what is going on and this witty play combines sci-fi with everyday school life and touches on themes like family, friends, identity, coping with grief and theories of the multiverse.

The Playgoers are always on the lookout for new recruits and it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to appear on stage, there are plenty of roles on offer in this close-knit theatre community.

To become a member, purchase tickets or find out more about the Playgoers, visit www.theatre-royal-workington.co.uk

 

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Hundith Hill

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