Amateur dramatics group battles to win place in West End

Dusty church halls, dressing-up boxes and fluffed lines might all spring to mind when it comes to amateur dramatics. But a TV talent show featuring Edinburgh dramatic society The Grads are set to turn that stereotype on its head.

The Grads are among eight groups who will battle it out to be crowned Britain’s best and win the chance to appear in the West End in the six-part series Nation’s Best Am Dram which airs tomorrow.

Each group will work with a famous mentor as they develop their theatrical skills.

Mentoring The Grads will be Irish actress Niamh Cusack, right, who has graced the boards of the Royal National Theatre and starred as Dr Kate Rowan in ITV’s Heartbeat.

They will then appear before a panel of judges, made up of award-winning actress Miriam Margolyes, producer Bill Kenwright and theatre critic Quentin Letts.


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Grads member Gordon Craig, 33, a web developer from Leith, said: “All of us were really pleased when we found out we were going to be on the programme, but we went in not really knowing how it was going to be received.

“Our mentor, Niamh, was absolutely fantastic. She went above and beyond what the programme required and we were very glad of the experience.”

The Grads became involved in the show when member David Grimes, who directed the audition piece Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II found out about the contest.

The group were picked as a finalist after performing the audition in person.


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Mr Craig explained The Grads are keen to be known for the quality of their performances.

He said: “We don’t like the idea of am dram being cheap and substandard, we like to put together quality performances.

“We have done a number of shows that older people might find a bit risqué, with a bit of blue language, things like The Pillowman, 4:48 Psychosis and Crave.”

The 64-strong group, open to everyone, were founded in 1954 by Edinburgh University alumni who were former members of the University Dramatic Society.


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Having participated in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the group received a commendation in the Edinburgh Evening News Drama Awards in 2007 and were the winners of the Scottish Community Drama Association full length competition for the 2009-10 season with their performance of Margaret Edson’s Wit.

Sky Arts channel director James Hunt said: “Sir Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart all began their illustrious careers within amateur dramatics.

“We were amazed to discover how many people are involved in some form or another, with amateur theatre.

“With this series, the emphasis will be on excellence of acting which can be found in the most unexpected of places.


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“We hope to find amazing new talent who can put on a performance worthy of its final West End setting.”

The Grads’ latest show, Richard III, will be performed at the St Bride’s Centre, Orwell Terrace, at 7.30pm from November 21 to November 24.

• Nation’s Best Am Dram, Sky Arts HD, tonight 9pm.