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Part of our socially distanced reopening season, AmDram: A Musical Comedy (27 – 29 May) is written by musical theatre writing duo and childhood friends Alex Parker and Katie Lam. In this blog Katie tells the story of how AmDram was created and what the show has in store for audiences.
It was supposedly Mark Twain who said, ‘Write what you know’.
One evening in December 2013, maybe half nine or so, Alex rang me. A budding theatre professional, he was working as Assistant Musical Director on Stephen Ward, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest show. I was 15 minutes down the road, having followed a somewhat different career path, at my desk in the City. Alex had a slot in our local theatre for the summer, he’d rung to tell me, but the rights to the show he’d chosen had fallen through. Should we think about writing that musical, like we’d said? What would it be about?
A little context. Alex and I have been best friends since we were put next to each other in the Class 4 seating plan when we were eight years old. We’ve let our imaginations run wild together ever since – even then we had a “children’s television show” that we would host from the back row (Breaking News: Laurence bought a new ruler). Alex even wrote a theme tune. When we were a little older, there was the hit crime drama Manning Mysteries (two series and a Christmas special, available on DVD), filmed on location in our houses and the surrounding streets. We put on our first original production aged 15 – a half hour comedy called ‘A&E: The Musical!’ – and having got a taste for it, promised each other we’d write a full show. Then came A Levels, university, internships, work experience, and somehow that musical never materialised.
By the time of that fateful 2013 phone call, we had grown out of a lot of that sort of thing. We were older and wiser, university graduates with serious jobs. But the challenge of writing a musical and the thrill of creating together again was too hard to resist. So, what would it be about? The obvious thing to do was to write what we knew, and write what we ourselves loved to watch.
Alex and I had both since childhood revelled in the observational, female-led comedy of the likes of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett. We adored actresses like Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge and Thora Hird. We had also spent a large portion of our formative years at various clubs and societies, often together – Scouts, youth orchestra, debating club, school council, recorder group, and of course, the greatest of them all, amateur dramatics. Alex started working as the MD (Musical Director) for local productions as a teenager, and by 2013 we’d seen a whole host of characters and situations just asking to be made into a show.
So we decided we would write a musical comedy, in the dry and witty style of our dramatic heroes, featuring a cast of and written for the local amateur actors we knew and loved. Diana (Janie Dee) is the established leading lady of the Great Osterford North Amateur Dramatics Society (GONADS). When officious Chairwoman Honoria (Wendy Ferguson) appoints professional director Max (Raj Ghatak) for their latest production, Diana couldn’t be more excited. But when newcomer Rose (Laura Pitt-Pulford) turns out to be a former professional actress, the stage is set for a showdown. Meanwhile anxious Elaine (Debbie Chazen) is desperate to put on a good curry and quiz night, gentle Ian (Jordan Lee-Davies) is looking for somewhere he can feel at home, and the Karens (Sharan Phull) just want everyone to remember which one is which!
It feels particularly moving to be reopening the building to an audience with a show that is about the theatre itself – how much people love it, how it unites us, how it can bring out our hilarious worst but also our wonderful best. Am Dram is, of course, about am dram, but it’s also about the PTA or the parish council, the book club or the running group. Britain is chock full of people doing all sorts of things not for money, but for love and passion, pride and a sense of belonging. Am Dram celebrates them, and we invite you to come and celebrate them, too.
AmDram: A Musical Comedy, runs 27 – 29 May as part of our socially distanced season. Find out more and book your tickets now here.