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Lifelong friendships are formed through a love of am dram

By Alison Norton | Wolverhampton entertainment | Published:

Lifelong friends are worth their weight in gold and amateur theatre is certainly one of the best hobbies to meet and enjoy the company of like-minded people.

You got a friend – from left, Alison Norton, Judith Lathbury-Howell, Gill Fenner and Shirley Sunderland

Those of you who know me or read my page on a regular basis, will know that I’m an old dancer. That’s how I became involved in theatre. From the age of six, I’ve attended the Lytton School of Dance in Wolverhampton and, this year, I’m celebrating 50 years there.

Little did I know all those years ago that a Saturday afternoon class where I studied ballet, tap, acrobatics and modern dance would lead to a hobby which has lasted half a century. In my personal life, a background in dance lead me to amateur theatre, which in turn resulted in me becoming chairperson of South Staffs Musical Theatre Company. In my professional life, I review theatre, interview stars and write this weekly page.

I don’t actually remember the first time I went on stage, but it must have made an impact because I still love it all these years later.

The time has gone by so fast and I have made many, many friends along the way, but none as close as the three ladies I’m going to tell you about.

The principal of the Lytton School of Dance, Judith Lathbury-Howell from Penn, Wolverhampton, and fellow pupils Shirley Sunderland, from Albrighton, and Gill Fenner, from Wombourne, have been my girl pals since childhood. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but I simply cannot imagine being without them.

Together we’ve literally danced our way through life; through school, teenage years, boyfriends and husbands, choices of careers, weddings, divorces, motherhood, menopause and the loss of loved ones. We’ve supported each other in the bad times, celebrated with each other in the good times, all with one thing in common – dance.

We’ve performed in the Lytton School of Dance show every year – in the early days at Ounsdale School in Wombourne and the Wulfrun Hall and then the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and the Mill Theatre in the Dormston Centre in Sedgley. And 50 years later, we’re still performing. We do limit ourselves to just a couple of numbers now, one of which is our annual tap extravaganza.

Still pretty nifty with our tap shoes on, we’ve time-stepped our way through everything from Let’s Face the Music and Dance to Mack the Knife, from the Charleston to Hello Dolly. We’ve used fans, hats, canes and even small children in our act and even after all these years, we’re never short of ideas for the next one!

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From the local garden fete to cabarets with professional acts, we’ve done it all. We’ve worn the traditional ballet tutu, can-can dresses, been bedecked in sequins and feathers, played comedy nuns and even Disney characters alongside the children in our shows and we have loved every minute.

We’ve dressed up as Frosty the Snowman, The Beast and a whole host of other characters. Oh no, wait . . . that’s just me! The others seem to have managed to avoid all that nonsense.

I dread to think how many pairs of dance shoes, tights and hairgrips we have gone through or how many quick changes we have helped each other with, but there has never been a cross word. As they say ‘the show must go on’ and you simply have to get on with it!

Over the years, the costumes have become much less skimpy and we don’t like to rush ourselves. Gone are the days of running around with one leg in a costume on the side of the stage, but we still adore that spine-tingling feeling that a performance brings.

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There’s nothing quite like standing with your back to an audience waiting for the curtains to open on a show, especially when you have three dear friends alongside you. Then catching each other’s eye on stage and smiling even wider than you are already, because the smile is not just for the audience but for your friends too.

There have been many hilarious moments throughout the years of friendship, but none as funny as Gill walking off stage before a dance had actually finished and then sloping back on again when she realised what she had done.

Or Judith presenting an impromptu arabesque in the middle of a dance when everyone else was doing a completely different movement.

Or when Shirley was late getting on stage and tripped over a piece of scenery nearly falling in the orchestra pit.

And me? I am perfect, of course, and never put a foot wrong. Well that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Our days of dancing are numbered now. I’m the youngest of the four and I am almost 56. We’re not as fit as we used to be and a couple of us are suffering with bad feet and knees, but generally, for our combined age of 253, we manage OK.

We think we are a totally unique group of friends and although the only thing we can lift from the barre these days is a gin and tonic, we are still bound together by our love of dance.

I’ve often said that one day, when time permits, I will write a book about our friendship and the dramas that our everyday lives have brought, as well as our theatrical connection over the years.

We think it would be a blockbuster and a best seller.

| For information on the Lytton School of Dance, which has branches in Penn, Wombourne and Coven, under the instruction of Judith Lathbury-Howell and her son Richard, call 01902 338556 or visit www.lyttondance.co.uk

| Well that’s all for this week. Please send me details of all your shows, am dram stars and remember to include good quality colour photos too.

You can email me at a.norton@expressandstar.co.uk, call me on01902 319662 or follow me on Twitter @AlisonNorton

Alison Norton

By Alison Norton
@AlisonNorton

Theatre critic and unofficial 'am dram queen' for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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