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The memoirs of Mr Alman

Published: 16 Jan 2013 09:301 comment

Graeme Cairns talks to us about his 'life's work'

ALMAN Dramatic Club stalwart Graeme Cairns is known for not mincing his words.

STALWART: Graeme

So when the former Artistic Director began penning a personal history of the club it was always going to provoke some controversy.

The club was formed in September 1939 but it was not until 2009 that Graeme set about writing his book 'Serving Wenches and Quick Changes'.

It came after years of pleas from current Artistic Director Gerry Docherty.

Chatting to the Advertiser at his home in Paton Street, Alloa, the 82-year-old is just as candid about why the book was not published before now.

He said, "If I had written a history of the Alman back then there would need to have been a moratorium put on it.

"Some of the people have since passed away. I wouldn't have been able to write about them if they had still been alive."

Mr Cairns had been continuously involved with the amateur dramatic club since 1948 - bar an 18 month break for National Service - and stepped down as artistic director in 2001.

The book charts the club's beginnings, the fall-outs, the spats, the trials and tribulations of the Coach House Theatre in Inglewood, and every single production until 2010.

It was launched at the end of the theatre's winter run of Macbeth, the tenth Shakespeare performance. Coincidentally it was Graeme who introduced the Bard to the club in 1968 with a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In the book, he writes that from the Alman's birth it had "ambitions to achieve high standards".

He adds, "While in the early years it may have fallen short of those from time to time, there is no doubt its aspirations were for excellence. These ambitions of its founders marked the club out from many of its neighbours."

He notes that the club was formed initially as a play-reading female-only group "saving Clackmannan women from boredom and claustrophobia".

Graeme trawled through photos, programmes, club minutes and newspapers (including the Alloa & Hillfoots Advertiser) in order to give an accurate historical account of the club - with, of course, his own personal touches.

He said, "I had to do a great deal of research especially the years before I was involved. I came to the club in 1948. It had been on the go for nine years by that time. In the early years they didn't keep that many records and some of the players are now dead or not living in the area any more. I researched the local papers - the Alloa & Hillfoots Advertiser, Alloa Journal and the Alloa & Hillfoots Record - and the club minutes.

"I had a fairly good memory of when I became involved myself. I can't remember what happened last week but I've got a good memory for years ago. It became easier as I went on."

Graeme was born and raised in Alloa. He attended Alloa Academy and it was while at the secondary school that he first got the taste for theatre.

Not long after, he joined the Alman Dramatic Club - its name an amalgamation of Alloa and Clackmannan, where most of the members resided in its early years. During that time there were four other drama clubs in Alloa. These were: The Phoenix Players; The Bedford Players; Alloa Academy Former Pupils Dramatic Club; The Harland Dramatic Club.

Now all that remains in Alloa is the Alman and the Alloa Musical Players.

Graeme attributes this to the conversion of the Inglewood coach house into a theatre in 1957, where the audience is treated to a unique experience; being as they are just inches from the stage.

He said, "Had it not been for that (the Coach House Theatre) it probably wouldn't have lasted as long as it has. Plus it developed a reputation for being one of the best theatre groups in Scotland."

Once Graeme became involved in the Alman, the theatre group became his life. At one point he was offered a job in professional theatre but turned it down because of a lack of self-confidence.

Current artistic director Gerry notes Graeme's influence on the club in a special introduction to the book where he writes, "Graeme has lived the Alman. Older patrons still think of Graeme as 'The' Alman."

Graeme said, "I've been a member of the Alman for 64 years. It was really my life's work. I wasn't paid for doing it. Apart from being in business it was the Alman that would take up all my time. When I retired from my work in 1990, I spent more time at Inglewood than when I was earning a living."

That living was earned at Bass Maltings in Castle Street, Alloa, where he retired as office manager after 23 years. It would be another 10 years before he retired from the Alman.

Anyone wishing to buy a copy of 'Serving Wenches and Quick Changes' (priced £9.99) can do so through the Alman Dramatic Club box office line 07929 561311.

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