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New lease means there's life in the Old Rep yet.

The news that the lease on the Old Rep is being renewed for another 25 years will be widely welcomed in the world of amateur theatre - even though the number of amateur groups now using this venerable pile is barely more than half a dozen.

The theatre, made famous by Sir Barrie Jackson and the players he gathered about him before they went on to make their name, afterwards became the venue for 30 or more societies, mainly operatic groups, who presented their annual shows there during the 1 980s.

It also became the home of the Birmingham & District Theatre Guild and of the Birmingham Festival of Acting & Musical Entertainment (FAME) which the guild organises but which has latterly transferred to the Crescent Theatre, the guild having lost its bas e at the Old Rep a few years ago in an atmosphere of recriminations when Birmingham City Council closed the theatre on health and safety grounds and set about preparing it for regular professional use by the now very successful Birmingham Stage Company.

After refurbishment, costs of lettings went up and some amateur groups found them prohibitive. In addition, with priority being given to the needs of professional theatre, it became increasingly difficult to book in an amateur show at the Old Rep.

So the numbers of amateur users gradually dropped to the handful of stalwarts who still fly the flag there - among them, Birmingham Savoyards, Circle Light Opera Company, Great Barr Operatic Society, Birmingham & Midland Operatic Society Youtheatre, Hand sworth Gang Show and some small drama groups.

Even so, with the lease renewal approved by the council's Leisure Services Committee and Joint Arts Culture & Economic Sub-Committee and now having the small print examined by legal experts, there will be delight that the uncertainty has disappeared and that the Old Rep's future is apparently assured for the next quarter of a century.

Paul Valente, for Great Barr Operatic Society, which will be presenting The Wiz there in March, said: "It's good news. I just hope that the council is not going to spend a lot of money on it and then try to recoup everything by having a go at amateurs ag ain and so price us out of the market. There is a limit to what amateurs can charge for seats and we are getting towards that stage."

Mention of Handsworth Gang Show reminds me that producer John Simcox is looking for an organist for the show which will be at the Old Rep in February. The group rehearses one night a week and on Sunday afternoons and reckons to play to a packed house for seven performances.

Volunteers, please, to John Simcox on 0121 358 1268 (evenings) or 0121 776 8249 (daytime).

I deliberately have not telephoned to find out, because I hope Hall Green Little Theatre will be sticking with its curtains and not falling for the current trendy approach of having a wide open stage to greet its patrons when they turn up on Friday.

The reason is that its season is opening with Neville's Island, the excellent comedy by Tim Firth, which was produced with the best set I have ever seen when professionally presented at the Swan Theatre, Worcester, earlier this year - but which denied it s designer the ovation he undoubtedly deserved because it was already on display when patrons walked in to take their seats.

Hall Green has neither the space nor the money to spend on a set which included 4,500 litres of 18in-deep water, enabling its actors to arrive by "swimming" as they embarked on the story of four businessmen marooned on an island in the Lake Distict. But it does usually have the sense to keep its curtains closed until the action begins, and I am sure that they will open this time to reveal a set to charm the audience into applause.

WHAT'S ON

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Highbury Little Theatre, Sutton Coldfield (toSaturday).

Benefactors, Oldbury Rep, Barlow Theatre, Langley (to Saturday).

Sylvia's Wedding, Fellowhip Players, Grange Playhouse, Walsall (Oct 1-10).

The Small Hours, Theatre 28, Solihull Libary Theatre (Oct 1 & 2).

Good News, Halesowen Musical Comedy Society, Cornbow Hall, Halesowen (Oct 5-10).

The Gondoliers, Centre Theatre Company, Nuneaton Arts Centre (Oct 6-10).

My Mother Said I Never Should, Pendulum Theatre Company, Midlands Arts Centre (Oct 7-10).

The Happiest Days of Your Life, Hagley Theatre Group, Hagley Community Centre (Oct 8-10).

An Ideal Husband, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (Oct 10-24)

Ruthless, Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth (Oct 10-17).
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 30, 1998
Words:750
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