POPULAR local theatre group LAMPS originally formed in 1927. Initially, the group was launched as an all-male cast of ex-students from the Judd School Rugby Club, who performed a musical revue to raise funds.
Pupils from Tonbridge Grammar School [for girls] joined in 1930, and a year later a committee was formed.
Rejecting the name Tonbridge Operatic and Dramatic Society [TOADS], the name Local Amateur Musical Players – or LAMPS – was decided upon.
The players performed in various theatres in Tonbridge, including the Medway Hall, which is where Poundland’s car park now stands, and the Repertory Theatre on Avebury Avenue.
In 1955, the Repertory Theatre closed and forced LAMPS to look elsewhere. Its cast, now averaging at least 50 people per production, found a new home at the Royal Victoria Hall in Southborough – and remained there almost exclusively for 59 years, until it closed in January 2015.
Now they have come full circle back to Tonbridge, performing The Mikado at the EM Forster Theatre – a production they first put on in 1972 but are revisiting to celebrate the LAMPS’ 90th birthday.
Why did LAMPS decide to stage The Mikado?
We are always keen to give our audiences something fun, interesting, and quirky to watch. And you don’t get more quirky than a Gilbert and Sullivan classic like The Mikado. It’s a musical farce full of impromptu marriages, forged death certificates and the revelation of a prince in disguise – all with the threat of execution hanging over their heads. It’s a classic production with scope to bring in some modern comic twists, and ours is no different.
Who is directing the performance?
Helen Thorpe. She is recognised throughout the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells theatre scene thanks to her work with various local venues, including The Oast, TWODS, Trinity Theatre Club and The Pantiles Players. Helen has won awards for her productions of The Pajama Game (for LAMPS) and The Pirates of Penzance (for TWODS), and is well-known for her quirky twist on theatre classics. She brings a wonderful energy, passion and dedication to any production she works on.
What appealed most to you about The Mikado?
Helen proposed bringing the Victorian script by Gilbert and Sullivan slightly more up to date by setting it in 1910. The twist comes as we are pretending to be a band of Edwardian music hall performers putting on a production of The Mikado. So there’s a little bit more interaction with the audience – but it’s definitely not pantomime!
How long have you been rehearsing it?
We had our first read and sing-through just before Christmas, with rehearsals beginning properly at the beginning of January. It’s fairly common to rehearse a musical of this kind for around three months, and we generally meet twice a week for the first six weeks and then add in longer Sundays. People are more focused and less tired from work then – but it’s a big commitment for everyone – the cast, the crew, the props and costume designers, and all our associated families!
How big is the cast, and can you tell us about the audition process?
There are 28 people in the cast, some are new members of the society, whilst several others have actively been a part of the LAMPS since the early 1960s. We’re proud of our all-welcoming nature, and our diversity of age brings with it great amounts of fun. Auditions usually follow a help night where the director, musical director and choreographer go through their concept for the show, sing some of the songs the prospective cast will need for their auditions, and teach what we amusingly call ‘movement to music’ (otherwise known as dance). It’s a very collaborative process to see what people are capable of in a friendly way rather than testing them.
With a production like this, the costumes are of great importance. Do you have a big team behind the scenes making them?
We’re very lucky to have talented people working in all areas backstage for this production. Our small team of costumers, prop makers and set builders number about half a dozen in total. Some of the costumes have been borrowed, most have been modified, hired or made from scratch, which gives the show a definite and consistent look. The wigs and make-up are just as important a part of the characters, and once they’re all put together we have the most amazingly striking physical beings to go with their characters from the script.
What can the audience expect from seeing this show?
I hope a rip-roaring night of musical entertainment! We have wrung every ounce of comedy from Gilbert and Sullivan’s wonderful original script, and added some more in, to boot. It’s a brilliant piece of physical theatre, and we’re blessed to have some very versatile actors, dancers and singers who really do give their all on stage.
The Mikado runs from Saturday-Wednesday April 4-8 at the EM Forster Theatre at Tonbridge School. Tickets start from £13, and performances are at 7.30pm, with a matinee at 2.30pm on the Saturday. For more information, visit www.boxoffice.tonbridge-school.co.uk