Plucky Dales theatre amateurs take on US stars in New York

Dales play hits New York - From left, back row - Sue Hickson (sound); Margaret Burton (author's wife); Keith Burton (author); Ben Derrick (actor); front row - Ruth Dodsworth (actor); Sheila Smith (prompt). (Picture by Samuel French)

Dales play hits New York - From left, back row - Sue Hickson (sound); Margaret Burton (author's wife); Keith Burton (author); Ben Derrick (actor); front row - Ruth Dodsworth (actor); Sheila Smith (prompt). (Picture by Samuel French)

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In an amazing theatrical David and Goliath story, a small group of Nidderdale thespians have made a big impression in the Big Apple with an amateur writer’s very first play.

Written and directed by Pateley Bridge man Keith Burton, The Journey travelled to New York as the UK’s sole entry to the international Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival.

The audience outside the theatre in New York on the night of our performance.

The audience outside the theatre in New York on the night of our performance.

Although some of the American judges at the Off-Broadway theatre The Classic Stage Co were slightly bamboozled by its Britishness at times, the reaction was favourable overall.

Keith Burton said: “What an experience! We all went through an incredible learning curve. There were actors performing who feature in major stage and TV productions in the USA.”

A powerfully written two-hander whose plot unfolds on a bus journey into Leeds, The Journey is former chief education officer Burton’s first play.

It was Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society’s entry in the 2013 Nidderdale Drama Festival where it won a string of awards.

The canny Dales crew made friends by treating the New Yorkers to mementos from Pateley Bridge including rainbow kali sweets from The Old Sweetie Shop on the High Street.

Burton said: “When we gave them the sweets at the theatre, they called an impromptu staff meeting to show everyone. They love anything historic!”

The Pateley group, who included Burton, actors Ruth Dodsworth and Ben Derrick and technician Sue Hickson, were then invited to the head office of Samuel French.

Samuel French’s literary director Amy Marsh was so impressed she asked for copies of two more of Burton’s plays and said she wanted a meeting about Keith’s Pateley Bridge play with their acquisitions manager in London.

Keith said: “She was astonished to learn that this was the first stage play I had written and said she would now need to apologise to the London office for enquiring why “we were only just reading work from this guy who is 59!?”