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Jill Bennett on local theatre

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

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Theatre is thriving here in the South West. That's not a sentence you may expect to read these days, but it's true.

I don't want to minimise the crippling effect on local arts organisations of central, and therefore local, government cuts – because they have been harsh. But I do want to celebrate the abundance of talent, enthusiasm and sheer hard work that people are putting into live performance all year round in this area.

I grew up in the Midlands with theatre-loving parents who also had day jobs. I know inside out what it is like to spend most evenings and every weekend in a shabby rehearsal room with a load of people you wouldn't normally meet. I loved the long technical rehearsals where everyone shared in-jokes, sandwiches and a real passion to put on a great performance. The sense of teamwork, communication, trust and joy that brought has never left me – and I now have a job in professional theatre which allows me to offer that experience to as many people as possible.

Thanks to the legacy of the late Margot Boyd – a Bath-born actress most famous for her role as Marjorie Antrobus in Radio 4's The Archers – I am now in the privileged position of being paid to work in a job which means I can see a wealth of professional and amateur theatre and help people to find their love of theatre, too.

There are more than 120 amateur companies in Bath and Bristol alone – groups who meet in church halls, school halls, Scout huts, sports pavilions, rooms above pubs. They meet wherever there is space to fit a company of actors, a director and a team of stage managers, preferably with a toilet and a kettle nearby.

Some companies have their own buildings to perform in (and maintain), others hire professional performance venues, or use donated space depending on their budget. A company like Bath Light Operatic Group is able to hire the Theatre Royal Bath to stage South Pacific, whereas a smaller company like Core Theatre used The Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel in Bath a couple of weeks ago to put on the classic three-hander, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The range of ability and achievements is varied, let's be honest, but the passion is consistent.

If you wanted to see a live theatre performance six nights a week, you pretty much could. And on Sundays there's always something good on TV, starring someone who started out in amateur theatre.

Jill Bennett is the Engage programme co-ordinator at Bath Theatre Royal. Box office 01225 448844; www.theatre.org.uk

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