That famous old showbusiness chestnut, ‘never work with children or animals’, has definitely rung true for Telford And District Light Operatic Players over the years. At times, they’ve behaved like proper divas.
One poodle was so badly behaved on stage during a performance of Gigi it had to finally be replaced. And then there was the cat that suffered from such debilitating stage fright that it suffered the ignominy of being kicked off in favour of a stuffed toy!
Ah, the joys of amateur dramatics . . .
With the players mid-way through their special 40th anniversary production of Calamity Jane, they’ve been looking back at how it all began, and some of the fun they’ve had along the way.
Tadlop vice chairman Robin Cooper says: “The cat was a right prima donna, but that’s what live theatre is like, dealing with the unexpected.”
The group’s current production, which ends its run at Oakengates Theatre tomorrow, is a nostalgic return to the very start. Because Calamity Jane, featuring classic songs like The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away!), It’s Harry I’m Planning to Marry and Secret Love, was also Tadlop’s very first, low budget production.
This time round, though, there’s nothing penny-pinching about it. The 2012 version has cost £25,000 to stage, has a cast of 40 (with another 40 helpers backstage), a West End set, a live orchestra and professional stage costumes.
It was a meeting in 1972, at Shirlee Gaston’s Dance Studio in Wellington, that brought about the creation of Telford and District Light Operatic Players.
A dozen parents of some of the pupils, and other like-minded people, felt the fast-growing new town of Telford lacked an organisation to perform light opera and musicals. What was needed, they felt, was a society to bring a little ‘West End’ theatre to the area.
Within two weeks, an organisation was formed and almost 50 people had expressed an interest in being involved in putting on the very first show, Calamity Jane, with Shirlee playing the lead. It started with a donation of £5 with the first show costing around £500. Tickets were 30p and programmes cost just 5p.
After three nights at Oakengates Town Hall and all bills paid, the society had made a profit of £25 which went towards its next production, and since these very humble beginnings Tadlop has gone on to stage more than 70 lavish musicals for generations of Shropshire audiences.
They’ve become increasingly ambitious over the years. Among the most memorable projects are Singin’ in the Rain, which had its own rain set, and Titanic which had tilting ship handrails giving the illusion of the huge liner sliding down into the icy sea.
Robin says: “The original pioneers wanted to set up West End-style theatre for the local community. They wanted to provide affordable theatre, something that is part of the local community and that is exactly the same now.
“In the early days everything was handmade and the sets were locally produced. But as the shows got bigger we were able to hire in and give something really special. We’ve gone from having very few lights to having all singing all dancing lights and back projectors and video footage in some productions.
“Calamity Jane has meant going back to how it all started. It’s a traditional musical, but not done in the traditional way.”
But that’s not the only highlight of the group’s 40th birthday year. Tadlop has also gone ‘on tour’ to county venues, featuring songs from the musicals, and members have performed A Furnaceman’s Dream at The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages Project. It has recently been nominated for a National Operatic and Dramatic Association Award for Best Production for Me and My Girl from last year, and A Furnaceman’s Dream.
Now a charity, TADLOP has had some impressive presidents, including Dame Anna Neagle and Sir Patrick Moore. Today it has 100 members and is still looking for more . . . especially male singers.
If you think you’re up for the challenge, a workshop where prospective new members can explore acting, singing, dance and technical skills is taking place on Sunday, November 4 at Hadley Methodist Church Hall in Telford, from 7pm. Contact 07528 638516 for more information.
Tadlop’s next production is a musical version of timeless classic, The Secret Garden. Preparations begin in earnest next month, with performances scheduled for April. Producers are currently looking for youngsters to take on the lead roles aged between 10 and 15. Interested parents can contact Tadlop through its website, www.tadlop.com.
Meanwhile, there are still some Calamity Jane tickets on sale for the final two days. Call 01952 382382 or visit www.oakengates.ws