TWODS will take to the stage at Trinity for the first time in 40 years on November 21 with their production of ‘A Chorus Line’. Running until November 25, the theatrical troupe’s director Rebecca Clow tells Eileen Leahy why they are so excited to be back on stage there and what the audience will enjoy about their latest show…
Tunbridge Wells Opera and Dramatic Society – TWODS – is one of the oldest amateur theatre groups in the country. Formed in 1889 as the Tunbridge Wells Dramatic and Musical Society, its first production was of two plays: ‘A Blighted Being’ and ‘My Preserver’, which were performed on a stage built by the actors themselves at the gymnasium on Calverley Road.
A large variety of straight plays followed at The Great Hall, while the Tunbridge Wells Operatic Society, formed in 1890, began staging more musical shows at that same venue. The groups eventually merged in 1911 and have performed almost every year since – with the only exceptions being during the two World Wars and the Covid pandemic.
For years they have performed at the Assembly Hall but this month – for the first time in nearly 40 years – they are stepping back on stage at Trinity Theatre with their new production of ‘A Chorus Line’.
“Traditionally we perform – and will continue to do so – larger shows with huge sets, special effects and big musical numbers,” explains A Chorus Line’s director Rebecca Clow.
“But musical theatre as a genre is wonderfully broad and ever-changing, so we thought performing at Trinity Theatre would be an excellent challenge for TWODS, both in style and content. We wanted to do something more intimate and Trinity is the perfect space for that.”
Rebecca goes on to say that Trinity Theatre has welcomed TWODS with open arms.
“For that we are extremely grateful. But don’t be fooled by the smaller venue, you will still be getting the full TWODS experience – there is nothing small about this production! There is a 10-piece live band with 19 performers, plus 119 lights, glittering tailcoat costumes and our usual high standard of performance.”
For those not familiar with the plot of A Chorus Line, it’s set in New York in 1975 and follows the fortunes of a group of performers as they’re put through their paces in order to make the cut for a new show. But instead of just dancing, the director asks each performer to open up about their personal lives and what made them want to be involved in theatre. Cue lots of emotional stories told to a backdrop of some of the show’s hit songs such as What I Did For Love and I Hope I Get It.
Rebecca reveals that this is her first time directing a show for TWODS and so far she is enjoying the overall challenge of it all.
“I’m learning so much about my cast, the production team and how it all works and to be honest I’m loving every bit of it. Both Danny Moulton, our Musical Director and Karen Heaslewood, our Choreographer have been excellent, hardworking and supportive in some of my madcap ideas!
“My favourite thing has been working creatively with the cast – especially when they are trying things out, allowing themselves to be vulnerable and taking risks, with everybody being so fantastically supportive, it results in some fabulous breakthrough performances. I am so proud of every one of them.”
In terms of what the show’s audiences will like, Rebecca believes it will be the journey the characters go on and also their relatability.
“They are just ordinary people trying to get a job and once they start telling their stories you begin to invest in what makes them who they are. A Chorus Line also taps into the contemporary cultural interest in ‘reality and behind-the-scenes’ shows. Everyone loves a peek into the backstage drama!”
As A Chorus Line is about a group of dancers auditioning for a show, Rebecca adds that when it came to the auditions, she started thinking about the show and the wonderful diversity of TWODS’ membership.
“Our cast are all fantastic performers, but their strengths are in different disciplines. It’s when they bring that to the rehearsal room and then on to the stage, that those differences make the whole.”
And in terms of any challenges that Rebecca has experienced as a first-time director, she says the main one has been keeping sane when everyone is asking questions at the same time. “Oh and also having to sew silver-sequined bow ties on to costumes at one o’clock in the morning!” she laughs.
As always, TWODS will be supporting a local charity courtesy of the collection buckets it will be passing around after each show. This time it will be the Hospice in the Weald that will benefit.
“We know this community charity is one which many of our membership and audience will have personal connections to,” says Rebecca.
“Hospice in the Weald provides care completely free of charge to patients with a terminal illness, and those important to them, in West Kent and northern East Sussex. Its wonderful team of staff and volunteers provide 24-hour support and care for patients with an illness where a cure is no longer possible – whether that’s at home, in the community, or at its sites in Pembury and Five Ashes.”