Skip to main content

Nation's Best Am Dram - Reality TV Onstage

Amateur dramatics may still conjure up images of chintzy middle England matriarchs over-playing Alan Ayckbourn in draughty village halls, but it remains one of Britain's most popular past-times. Some two thousand groups estimated to be producing work, while in Scotland, the Scottish Community Drama Association is a major hub of am dram activity.

Some of the best am dram groups are currently on show in Nation's Best Am Dram, a six part TV series on Sky Arts HD, which pits teams against each other in a competition judged and mentored by high-profile theatre professionals. With three very different Scottish groups making it down to the last eight, and with performance in a London West End the prize for the winner, am dram is a very serious business for everyone involved.

By way of actor and director Kathy Burke's throaty narration, the first two episodes of Nation's Best Am Dram have introduced viewers to Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group (EGTG), the Glasgow-based Strathclyde Theatre Group (STG) and, from Castle Douglas in Galloway, Crossmichael Theatre Group. STG and Crossmichael were selected along with another five from video submissions judged by actor Miriam Margolyes and critic Quentin Letts, with producer Bill Kenwright chairing the panel. In a spirit of democracy, EGTC were selected by the public.

“We've always seen that as a positive,” says David Grimes, a lawyer and EGTG's director. “At the end of the day it's the public buying the tickets, so obviously they saw something that the judges missed first time round.”

For the quarter finals, half of the competitors were tasked to present a scene from Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, while the other half had to do likewise with a scene from Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. After three weeks rehearsals, each company was assigned a professional mentor, who appraised their progress while offering advice.

While EGTG were looked after by former Heartbeat star and National Theatre regular, Niamh Cusack, STG were watched over by Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart, Dame Harriet Walter. Crossmichael, meanwhile, found Peep Show star Paterson Joseph, another RSC regular, making the trek to Galloway to work with Crossmichael.

“He worked us really hard,” says Crossmichael director and full time carer, Anne McIntyre. “I do farce and comedy. That's my thing, and I tend to move people around all the time, but Paterson taught me the importance of being still.”

STG too are full of praise for their mentor.

“It was wonderful to have such an experienced actor as Dame Harriet Walters to help us,” says STG director Bruce Downie. “She took a lot of time to work with people individually, and that made an invaluable difference.”

Grimes describes Cusack as “absolutely the best mentor. She changed what we did completely, and it was so enlightening to see her process. There's a running joke now when we're rehearsing something, and someone will say 'How would Niamh do it?”

For Cusack herself, Nation's Best Am Dram was something of an eye-opener.

“It's making people interested in theatre,” she says. “Am dram is a social thing as much as anything. It allows people to use their imaginations and broadens people's lives, and I think it's important that people all over the country, especially in areas which perhaps don't have access to professional theatre, are getting up and doing it for themselves.”

Walters concurs.

“Am dram forms communities,” she says, “and it allows people to have some kind of creative release beyond the rest of their lives. A programme like this might make people watching it think 'that could be me up there'.”

In the third episode of Nation's Am Dram, shown tomorrow, viewers will be able to see Cusack put STG and EGTG through their paces with The Cherry Orchard. Walters will be seen doing likewise with STG, who are forced to make a last-minute cast change. Best of all in this week's programme is Richard Wilson's response to one group's reimagining of The Cherry Orchard in a sanatorium peopled by delusional patients.

How, though, have the groups fared since the series was filmed more than a year ago?

Since Nation's Am Dram ended, STG have been forced to vacate their home at the Strathclyde University owned Ramshorn Theatre, but the company is still going strong, and have just completed a run of Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman directed by Downie at Cottiers Theatre.

“It's been a difficult eighteen months,” says Downie. “We lost what had been our home for the last twenty years, and a lot of members drifted away, but the competition came along at exactly the right time. It regenerated focus for the group, and I think gave people a new sense of purpose.”

EGTG remain similarly galvanised, and this year alone have put on productions of Doctor Faustus and Jez Butterworth's play, Jerusalem, while only last week they staged Shakespeare's Richard III.

“We do four shows a year, anyway,” says Grimes, “so even while filming, we were rehearsing for our next production at the same time.”

For Crossmichael, whose members are more geographically spread out than STG and the Edinburgh Grads, the experience has been very different.

“We usually only do festivals between January and March,” says McIntyre, “so we haven't really met much recently. By the end of this, having spent so much time together, I think we'd been in each other's company too long, but we've met to choose a script for the SCDA, and now it's back to business as usual. We were talking about putting something on at the [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe this year. If there's any year we're going to do it, this has to be the one.”

Nation's Best Am Dram, Sky Arts HD, Wednesdays at 9pm

The Herald, November 27th 2012

ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…