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Just a stage they're going through

Amateur dramatics - a dirty phrase for some reason, even when the bulk of the box office take traditionally goes to charity. It suggests a musical evening of tedious embarrassment which you have to sit through and applaud because you know one of the three little maids. But wait] You could be that little maid] You may have thought that amateur dramatics was strictly out-of-town stuff, but practically every borough and every major institution in the City, from London Transport to the Stock Exchange, has a show in rehearsal. The scene is busting out all over.

Some sing, the others don't. Societies that used to do both have, like the West End itself, bowed to market forces and concentrated on musical comedy. Audience appeal is a big factor in the choice of show. Joe Putnam, leading light of London Transport Players (now renamed the London Theatre Players) for over 20 years, says the biggest successes are either old favourites like Oklahoma, South Pacific or The Merry Widow ('always makes money') or West End shows newly released for amateur performance. Anything Goes became available recently and there was a rash of productions. Crazy for You has yet to be released: 'Everyone's dying to do that.' However, it isn't always the West End that points the way. Joe insists that it was London Transport's hit with the long-forgotten Me And My Girl at the Wimbledon Theatre that prompted its revival in Shaftesbury Avenue. Joe played the lead.

Lloyd's Dramatic, Operatic and Musical Society (established 1910) is currently auditioning Kiss Me Kate. Are stars in the delicate process of being born? It's hard to tell from a cold audition, but only one person was out and out flat; everyone oozed confidence. Besides, ultimately, they are all doing it to please themselves (unlike second - or third - or fourth-rate 'professional' theatre, which can end up pleasing nobody). You could almost feel envious. What fun they were all going to have. It's a hobby and how many hobbies hold any promise of applause? 'Some people would like to do it professionally, which is such a mistake' says Joe. 'This way you get the best of both worlds: you've got regular employment and you get the best parts.' Directors from the companies that only do straight plays all have sad tales to tell of gifted amateurs who got above themselves and went professional, darling. There's only one things worse than being a spear-carrier and that's being a resting spear-carrier.

Some of the Kates at the Lloyd's audition look a bit past the kissing stage. One of these goes into her number with such grisly vaudevillean vigour you can practically see the footlights playing on her chins. Another tryo gives a strong performance, but she's definitely on the soft side of ripe. Joe Putnam doesn't see a problem 'with make-up and lighting. And distance. And a wig. . .

Lloyd's performers are quite a young group: not all the talent is purely theatrical. Is the amateur stage a good place to, er, shall we say, make friends? After all, last year's Laurey from Oklahoma is sitting on the lap of this year's Second Gunman from Kiss Me Kate, so one assumes so. June King, doyenne of the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society, remembers there was a rash of that sort of thing at the time of the Coronation (the present Queen): 'It's a fairly good matrimonial agency. We had six weddings out of one show. Decimated the chorus'. You'd have to put up quite a fight mind you. At Lloyd's, women outnumber men two to one. Some societies are 80 per cent female. Joe Burgh, of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, admits that 'men are particularly welcome. Especially if they happen to be tenors who can dance'.

Final auditions for Kiss Me Kate are being held tonight at The Lloyd's Building, basement restaurant, Lime St EC3 from 6.30pm onwards. See below for details


Backstage Amateur Dramatic Company. Based Hendon area. Musicals only. Mostly male. Has a professional director. Last production: Little Shop of Horrors. Next production: undecided. Contact: Laurence Conway (0582-37110)

The Chelsea Players. Based World's End. Plays only. Mixed sexes. Puts on four plays a year and describes its largely media and advertising membership as 'People who have careers rather than jobs - whatever that's supposed to mean. Last production: Merchant of Venice. Next four productions undecided but auditioning 6th September. Contact Andrew Foster (081-675 0924)

Comedy Club of London. Mixed ages. Short of men. Plays only. Based Notting Hill. Beaux Stratagem runs 20-23 July. Next production undecided but will be auditioning September. Contact Mary Lewis (071-435 0600)

Ladbroke Players. Plays only. Based Notting Hill. All ages. Current production: The Cherry Orchard (performing 16-18 June). Next production: Pantomime (auditioning November). Contact: Alison Du Cane (071-727 5463)

Lloyds Dramatic, Operatic and Musical Society. Musicals only. Based City. Last production: Oklahoma. Now casting: Kiss Me Kate. Contact: Stella Sharman (081-599 3115)

Opera Integra. Mostly female group of all ages based in Hammersmith where it forms part of the Hammersmith and Fulham Community Education Programme. This fairly serious group performs occasional concerts of extracts from the operas. Emphasis on voice training as well as performance explains the annual fees of pounds 130. Contact: Brian Galloway (081-746 2380)

The Spread Eagle Players (aka Barclays Bank Dramatic Society). Plays only. Based City. Youngish, mostly male. pounds 15 a year. Latest production: Run For Your Wife (30 June, 1-2 July) Next production: Murder on the Nile. Auditioning 22 June. Contact: Julia Loosley (071-256 6111 ext. 2071)

Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society. Based City. Last production: Guys and Dolls. Next production: undecided. Contact: June King (071-628 9369)

Other London-based companies include Applause (West End); British Telecom (West End); Capital Theatre (Lambeth); Comedy Club (Notting Hill); Concorde Players (Bounds Green); Geoids (Waterloo); Grosvenor (Fleet Street); Lensbury (Shell Centre); Philbeach (Paddington); Southside (SW12).

Almost all companies welcome non-performing members to help with stage management, wardrobe, make-up etc. For more information on societies in your area, contact Mark Thorburn, General Administrator, the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (071-837 5655)

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