Gale`s View - 3rd August 2011
In her dotage Dame Sybil Thorndike Casson, who pioneered the leading role in George Bernard Shaw`s “St. Joan”, signed, for a small boy, a theatre programme. With stunning modesty the inscription reads simply “Sybil Thorndike – another St. Joan”

I know that because the programme is in a box our attic.  I was the fourteen year old who played Joan in the school play and it was this “triumph”, as the Dorchester Echo described the event with a characteristic generosity of exaggeration, that drove me on to the Guildhall School of Drama, through stage and television to Production and Direction and, ultimately, found me performing in the Westminster Palace of Varieties.
 
Without the opportunities that I was offered as a schoolboy, without the painstaking and dedicated tuition, coaching and advice that I received from affectionate adults and without the voice production techniques that were hammered into me by long-suffering drama professors like the late, great, Rex Walters, I would never have had the courage to raise my voice in public on behalf of others.
 
That is why I am appalled to learn that Herne Bay`s excellent amateur stage companies now find it necessary, in the interests of “child protection” regulations ,  to confine membership of their groups to those over sixteen.  Confidence and fearlessness are learned and developed long before that age and a way has got to be found to overcome this restriction.
 
Of course child protection is important and of course there are men and women out there who seek to exploit the young and vulnerable for their own vile and despicable ends but should we not maintain a degree of common sense and proportion about all of this?
 
The overwhelming number of adults that work with kids playing sport, with cubs and brownies and scouts and guides and Air and Army and Sea and St.. John cadets and with drama and operatic and all manner of other clubs and societies are in it for one good reason only: having been given opportunities themselves and having developed life-long enjoyments and enthusiasms they wish to share and to pass down their skills and their knowledge and their pleasures to those that follow after them.
 
Kill all of this and the “Big Society” will be dead in the water and the streets will be full of young anti-social drunks who will be able to claim with justification that “there is nothing else for us to do”.
 
I have never advised Mrs. Worthington to put her daughter, professionally, on the stage. While I recognise that, for a chosen few, a life on the boards is the only possible form of existence I have also found out the hard way both that opportunities are few and far between and, on the plus side, that there is huge enjoyment to be had from good amateur and pro-am theatre groups, dance and stage schools and the like.  It is clearly necessary to ensure that a child`s education does not suffer as a result of, for example, participation in a local pantomime and that appropriate arrangements are made for supervision and sometimes late at night transport but are we seriously going to deny to a generation of young people the chance to “get up there and shine” ?
 
Time to act – literally – before the lunatics take control of another bit of the asylum.
4

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