The Playhouse Theatre, Preston

Great amateur theatre, right in the heart of Preston

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Greg Doran

Greg Doran

Greg Doran, directing an RSC production
of Othello in 2004

Gregory Doran, who began life in Preston in 1958 and joined Preston Drama Club at the age of twelve, is now a household name in British theatre; synonymous with Shakespeare, classical theatre, and the RSC.
Gaining the prestigious Olivier award for Special Achievement in 2002, and regularly hailed in the press for his ‘outstanding talents’, this reporter spoke to Gregory on how it all began and the wonderful world of amdram.

How it all began

One of Gregory’s earliest memories is of a party put on by his mum for the WI in Longton. They did a fluorescent scene where two white statues got off their plinths and started dancing. “At the age of four I thought that was completely magical,” says Greg, “I was rapt from that moment on.”

Stars for the day

A few years later Gregory and his friends the Edwards’ and Evans’ had their own little theatre company in the loft at the Edwards’ house. They called it the Lyndhurst theatre and regularly put on plays, including a production of Dick Whittington which lured in a local radio station and got them a photo in the Lancashire Evening Post.

A natural progression

At age 12, Barbara Edwards suggested the Greg come along to the Preston Drama Club. And since then Gregory has never looked back. He joined the youth theatre group which at that time was taught by Audrey Hughes, but soon started acting with the adults in main productions. He remembers his first panto Babes in the Wood with Nick Tomlinson and Don Stephenson as the dames.

He went on to play other roles with local theatre groups. In one he played an “extremely irritating student” in a play called Breaking Point, set in a polar ice cap.

He also acted with Preston Guild in a 1972 production of Camelot in Avenham Park. Nick Tomlinson played King Pelinor and Greg played the part of a Tom of Warwick.

“On the last night of the performance it poured all evening and being a Preston audience they were going to get their money’s worth, so sat under their umbrellas relentlessly waiting until the end of the show. Then right at the end I trotted on to a completely sodden stage to have my little Camelot moment.”

Inspirational people

Gregory was inspired and spurred on by many people at the Playhouse during his early years: Barbara and Dennis Edwards for their encouragement, Audrey Hughes as a friend and teacher, Celia Williams, for her hard work making costumes, Lewis Corner for his commitment to everything and Debbie Carter for her sheer brilliance on stage.

“Debbie was terrific as Mrs. Pottifar.”

“But the stars for me were Don Stephenson and Nick Tomlinson,” said Greg. “They were spectacular dames because they had a professionalism and a talent that was awe-inspiring to me.”

“There was absolutely no question.”

Greg knew what he wanted to do from a very early age. He recalls a well known remark by Maureen Lipman, “I was performing before the placenta hit the peddle bin.” And so it was with Greg.

His mum, the Playhouse, Preston Drama Club and other local groups in Preston no doubt gave Greg the grounding he needed to go onto the bigger world of professional theatre and rise to the ranks of chief associate director of the RSC, where he is today.

"Amdram, it's a great thing"

Yet Greg recognizes the importance of amateur theatre in giving a foundation and experience to young would-be professionals. He also believes that the key to getting young people involved and interested in theatre is through youth theatre groups, which give them the skills and confidence to join adult theatre groups or even go pro.

“Even if young people do leave the theatre in their late teens and twenties to go to uni, or start a family, if they have had that early experience they are more likely to come back.”

In praise of the am dram world as a “peculiarly British phenomenon” with a vitality that is “extremely important” to the community, Greg believes that in some ways it is better to be a big fish in the small pond of the am dram world, than live the precariousness of life as a professional.