NOTE - STAR RATING NOT USED ON THIS REVIEW
An Audience With… in the Empire Room at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh this afternoon was a joyous event put on as part of Luminate, Scotland's Creative Ageing Festival by Janice Parker Projects in collaboration with Capital Theatres.
Three dancers from the Variety era, Doreen Leighton-Ward (aged 87), Marie Duthie (96) and June Parker (92), all of whom had appeared on the Festival stage in its previous life as the Empire Theatre, took part in an afternoon of stories, photos, film, and memories from their careers. Unfortunately, the fourth member of the troupe, 98-year-old Betty Clarkson, was unable to attend today as she had just got out of hospital. The veteran dancers have been working with Janice Parker since 2016 (later joined by two young dancers, Katie Miller and Daisy Douglas), meeting weekly to dance, talk about dance, teach dance, share stories, and record and document as much as possible of their dancing and conversations. In the 1930s, 40s, 50s and beyond, dancing was simply a job, neither glamorous nor well-paid, but something these women did because they loved to dance. Variety theatre was extremely hard work, often with 13 shows in a week, with the one day off being taken up with travelling to the next place they would be performing. As well as performing on-stage, they had to be rehearsing the next show, repairing and cleaning their costumes (and sometimes even making the costumes), and all this for a low wage and not even a named mention on the billboards or in the programmes.
However, listening to these ladies telling their tales, they had a wonderful time. They travelled all over Britain, worked with many well-known names of the day, and eventually moved on from the chorus line to other jobs in theatre. Doreen, for example, appeared in many television dramas, June became assistant to an Australian illusionist and was frequently fired out of a cannon, and Marie became one half of the Raymond Sisters who performed on the renowned Moss Empire circuit.
It was wonderful to hear their stories of a time long gone, from women who were actually there and part of it, and it’s so important, I feel, that these stories are recorded for posterity. If listening to them got you in the mood to dance, then there was even the chance to borrow a pair of tap shoes and try it out for yourself!
An Audience With…is back again next Saturday, 25th May, at 2pm, so if you’d like a leisurely few hours in great company, with refreshments, and a wee bit of tap dancing, get your ticket now.
Review by Lisa Sibbald