The set’s the thing

In every professional company or amateur drama group the actors accept the applause. Of course professional actors also run the gauntlet of newspaper and other critics, some only too keen to savage their performances.  Amateur actors are luckier in this regard. Most audiences for Am-Dram performances are well-stocked with family, friends and supporters and most people are there to enjoy themselves, not to criticise. Anybody who has ever acted on stage is conscious that there are many elements which contribute significantly to their performance; costumes, lighting, sound and perhaps most important of all the set.

Here in Little Gaddesden we are lucky to have a decent sized stage which can be augmented by the addition of apron extensions at the front and the side. There are no refinements like trap doors and a very limited back-stage area.  What this does is to place a premium on the creativity and ingenuity of the set designer and builders. Over the years we have been very lucky to perform on some wonderful sets. Looking at the photos it is difficult to imagine that this is a village hall. In 2001 when the curtains opened to reveal the main set for Murder At Gaddesden Manor, an Edwardian drawing room with a large French window leading to a terrace and garden beyond, the audience actually applauded.That gave the cast, who as always were standing in the wings waiting for the off, a huge boost.

Snow White and the Seven You Know Whats
Snow White And The Seven You Know Whats cleverly juxtaposed the royal palace with a modest cottage in the woods

2002’s Toad Of Toad Hall was a technical tour de force.  Here there were several sets ranging from the river bank where Ratty, Mole and Badger first meet, the interior of Badger’s house, another river bank with a barge floating gently along a river to Toad’s cavernous Gothic mansion.  Each of the sets had to be dressed and lit and the changes needed to be seamless too, a transition helped by the utilisation of extracts from English pastoral music. Cinderella in 2007 presented a similar challenge and the photos display a riot of colour and energy which confirm the impression made at the time.

More recently 2010’s Stand And Deliver featured as one of its sets a three dimensional representation of the upper floor of a barn which took the breath away and 2013’s Snow White And The Seven You Know Whats cleverly juxtaposed the royal palace with a modest cottage in the woods. Of course it is difficult to disguise the limitations imposed by the modest width of the stage. Running across it is fraught with danger and when there is a big cast on stage movement of any kind can be a problem, so different from the huge expanses of the main stage used by in many professional theatres where the actors are tempted to move too much to fill the space available.

We are fortunate to have access to talented stage designers Barbara Sheard and Tim Hockings, who have been responsible for the sets of most of our plays, including those mentioned here. Without their contribution the productions would have been a pale shadow of what we were able to deliver and the opportunities for the actors to show off in the name of art greatly diminished.