The Attic is one of the smallest spaces at the Pleasance but often a great place to discover new writing. With a title like I, AmDram, this was not a piece that Sardines could ignore, and I was very glad to have seen it.
Hannah Maxwell wrote and performs this one-person show about growing up in an amdram dynasty of the kind that will be all-too familiar to many of those in other groups up and down the country. Hannah’s mother, grandmother and even her great-grandmother have all been involved with the Thalians group in Welwyn Garden City, and Hannah grew up surrounded by all the activities associated with the group.
Such an outline might sound banal, but it is down to the strength of the writing that this becomes an engrossing story, and one that is delivered with great sensitivity and skill. Costume changes are covered by video sequences illustrating the reality of amdram, as does the wickedly observed extra long blackout. Simple props like stage candles and rail tickets are used to great effect.
Gradually, however, another story emerges: that of a young girl discovering she is gay and wanting to play Freddie not Eliza in My Fair Lady. It is a mark of the skilful way in which this piece has been structured that it is only fair that the piece ends with her singing On the Street Where You Live in full costume, an experience she was denied at the time.
That is not quite the end however, for the play ends with the song that Thalians always use. On the day I attended this resulted in half the audience leaping to their feet to join in enthusiastically as they were indeed members of Thalians including the performer’s mother. This almost worked but previously this group, well-meaning no doubt, had come dangerously near to derailing the performance with their over-enthusiastic laughter, treating the script as if it was stand-up comedy rather than being much more than that. This loud response also made the other half of the audience feel very excluded and left out of the in-jokes.
In many ways, of course, this was also enthusiastically amdram, as anyone who reviews the work of such companies will know, with first nights stuffed with over-lubricated supporters, but it was more difficult to absorb here. Still apparent, however, was the potential of this piece, particularly if presented to others who have shared some of these experiences in groups that are, despite their apparent conventionality, often surprisingly inclusive.
Although I could have done without the community singing, too early in the piece and anyway unnecessary, this was for the most part a touching, thought-provoking and enjoyable play about one young person growing up through amdram, written and performed by an actor to watch.