For over ten decades, the idea of “amateur” theatre has been absolutely synonymous with the Darlington Operatic Society; being one of the largest amateur theatre companies in all of the UK, although their work appears to be anything but amateur. 


Currently celebrating a 100 year connection with Darlington Hippodrome, the company has produced over 160 shows, with their newest outing, Kinky Boots, being quite different from anything which they have attempted before, both in its grandiose scale, and its distinct themes throughout.  


As a theatre fan, I have followed the society for a couple years now, and was enthused to have had the opportunity to gain an insight into how DOS make musicals that seem to be so sensational, by speaking to the people at the heart of it, asking them what, in their opinion, makes a truly great musical.


I spoke first with the director of their latest musical, Jo Hand, who has been with the society since 1993, and has since gained a broad range of experience in the theatre industry. In her time as director, choreographer and her many other roles within DOS, she has gained the belief that in order to make a great musical, one must learn how to “nurture your company”, and act more as a “coach than a director”, in order to work with people and help them to grow. Many times within our conversation in fact, she referred to the musicals that the company created as though they were living and growing, with beating hearts and souls within, into which Kinky Boots’ message of self growth and self love would fit perfectly. 


Of course, with such a large company and two shows a year to be produced, there are obstacles which come hand in hand with this, which Jo acknowledged with a chuckle when I asked her about it. “With such a diverse group of people within DOS, it can be challenging from time to time to cater certain aspects of shows to the individual levels of experience which people have”, as often within DOS, many people have higher levels of dancing experience, or singing experience, and so it can “pose a challenge to create a show around that”, all while factoring in the spare time which people can devote to show. However, this has not stopped them from releasing so many shows, even under the restrictions of an international pandemic in 2021, showing the determination of the company as a whole.


Being one of the largest companies in the UK, there is also something distinctive about how DOS operates, especially the professional feeling to the musicals they put out each year, and the size of the society itself, however, there is also another factor which is never quite tangible, which sets the society apart. Jo describes this as being the mindset of the people, and the determination and heart which is brought to the musicals the company produces. In her words “a company can have a huge budget, but if there is no quality, then the whole thing falls apart, and that is what we have from our company; quality.” She also said that “the fact that we are all working towards the same thing helps a lot, there is no competition of ulterior motives between people, because we are all aiming for the same goal, the same show.”.


In addition to speaking to Jo, I had the opportunity to speak to some of the stars of the up-coming show, getting thoughts about the musical from members both new and old, such as Lucy Adams, who will be playing Lauren, and is also a committee member of the Society, co-running the social media page. As a member of the society and the committee she believes that the main aspect of this society that helps it to flourish in the way that it did is the dedication of its members and also the creative team behind the musicals. “It’s not just the actors you see on stage”, as she pointed out and gave major credit to those creative teams who worked backstage, on costumes and fittings, and those who helped to create promotional material for the society. A similar sentiment was shared by that of Patrick Callan, a new member of DOS, who joined in the most recent auditions for the company, who also added when asked about the company itself, that he had “never worked with a cast and company who were quite as supportive as those in Darlington Operatic Society”. “Despite the professional atmosphere, it’s really a family”, which ultimately does sum up what I saw from the company itself, a well-oiled machine in which every person has an equal role, from principal to ensemble, costume to backstage crew. 


This company and its productions are very heartfelt, especially with its latest endeavour Kinky Boots, and its perceived message of self acceptance and self love, and finding yourself when all else can seem to be lost. Lucy Adams said that it is a “very relevant musical, especially for a modern audience and with the LGBTQ community”, a theme that seemed to be common knowledge among the whole cast. It’s a show of self acceptance, self love, and finding one’s own identity in somewhere you wouldn't expect, and from what I've seen so far, it is shaping up to be something quite spectacular.