Hayley Picking, Wednesday 16 May 2012
The Wimbledon Light Opera Society have been performing to South West Londoners since 1929.
With their upcoming musical Curtains on the horizon, I sit in on a rehearsal and see what it’s all about.
Curtains is the brainchild of Kander and Ebb; writers of Cabaret and Chicago. It is a show-within-a-show, centring on the death of leading lady, Jessica Cranshaw. Detective Frank Cioffi from the Boston Police Department is brought in to solve the mystery, and along the way he discovers the thrill of theatre and catches the eye of one of the cast. Curtains ran on Broadway for over 500 performances, but never got picked up for a run on the West End, giving Amateur Dramatic groups the opportunity to perform an exciting piece of musical theatre.
John Huckle is the current chairman of the society, and arrives at the rehearsal in Lingfield Hall with two handmade wooden boat props in tow. Apparently the boats live in the kitchen and he is currently building a big steam boat which invades his hallway. He has a hands on approach, and launches into a variety of stories involving missing props and trousers falling down.
I get the impression that WLOS performances have an all or nothing attitude, with emphasis on the all. If something goes wrong, John doesn’t panic, in fact, secretly, I think he likes it when something goes a bit awry, it gives him a good story to tell down the pub. Asked about his favourite memories from his twenty years in the society most are related to something going wrong. In a performance of Kiss Me Kate, the stage set started to fall on top of the cast. The lead caught it, pushed it back up again and said ‘You can never get good stages in Boston.’ He laughs all the way through telling me about it.
John continues to laugh when telling me how they ended up with their current director. The original director of Curtains called him up one day, saying he couldn’t do it anymore. It caused quite a challenge, and it was soon discovered quite a lot of tasks had been forgotten about. A new director, Angela Daniel, was found, and the cast have been working very hard this past month to ensure everything gets done.
Each production is a real team effort and people join the group not just for the love of music but for the social side. The performance of Curtains saw quite a few new males join, two of them being Luke Burgess and Adam Walker. Adam says of being part of the group ‘It's like having a new family. We have quizzes on weekends, after show parties, and get-togethers on bank holidays. London is a big place and it is nice to have a family of people to socialise with.’
Actor Jason Thomas has been in six WLOS shows, and says it is the best life decision he ever made. When pressed on his favourite memory, he describes the moment so vividly, I get goosebumps. The group put on a musical version of Dad’s Army in November 2010; expectations weren’t high after the pinnacle of performing at the New Wimbledon Theatre with My Fair Lady. It was performed in Merton Hall and the set designer created a brilliant village hall on stage, with old posters and bunting hung around the building. Instead of the usual curtain call over a loud speaker an air raid siren rang out, and Jason said when he was stood behind the curtain with his uniform on, he got tingles down his spine.
Previously it had been a bit taboo to be a male involved in musicals, but with reality singing programmes, Glee and Smash being regular additions to viewing schedules it has become quite popular. The WLOS still struggles with filling male roles though, and Jason says it is because people don’t know this opportunity is out there for them. Adam expands on this saying that unless you had been bought up going to amateur dramatic groups, males wouldn’t have any idea these groups existed. If you want to have some fun and create something with a wonderful group of people, then Adam, Jason and Luke encourage anyone to get involved. If you’re still unsure, pop along to one of the rehearsals and see what it is about. I was only there for a few hours and laughed the entire time.
If Curtains is half as good as the rehearsals then the audience is in for a treat; John summarises, ‘It is a show within a show. They all get a bit confused and some people get killed.’ If that doesn’t get you booking tickets I don’t know what will!
Curtains is performing at the London Oratory School in Fulham from 30th May- 2nd June. To find out how to join the society and to book tickets visit: www.wlos.org.uk/