Don Arnott was in his mid-forties before he got the theatre bug. He had helped a few times backstage for Juniper Green Players and twice for EPT (thanks to Effie Robertson`s persuasive powers). In 1976 he really got the bug when he got involved in SCDA`s Golden Jubilee composite production of “The Warld`s Wonder” in the Church Hill Theatre. He became a close assistant to the director, Marillyn Gray. You could not fail to get enthusiastic about theatre if you were working closely with Marillyn. Don made friends with Derek Blackwood who designed the sets and also other Leitheatre members in the team, Marion Stewart (as she was then) and Andrew Wilson.
Don`s first attempt at acting came shortly after this when he was in Juniper Green`s production of “Bachelors are Bold” which also starred Irene Cuthbert who has been a close friend ever since. Don got roped in to help Derek build the set for Leitheatre`s production of “The Lass Wi` The Muckle Mou” in the Moray House Theatre and joined Leitheatre. He had not ambitions to act and was quite happy in the stage crew and set-building. His first appearance in a Leitheatre production was in “Night Must Fall” and other parts quickly followed.
Being a full member of the Institute of Marketing, Don took an interest in marketing for Leitheatre and became their regular Business Manager for the next ten years.
The club outgrew Moray House Theatre and took the daring decision to book the Church Hill Theatre. Their first production there was “The Baikie Charivari” directed by Marillyn Gray. The attendance was phenomenal at 1,360 over the four performances – full houses on two nights. The characters were all based on Punch and Judy characters and Don was the Jack Ketch character in the shape of the plumber and electrician communist.
A year later Don played the part of a dame with a red wig, as John Ramage`s housekeeper in “Let Wives Tak Tent” another Marillyn production. Other memorable parts followed in “All My Sons”, “Good Wives”, and a terrific part as The Common Man in “A Man For All Seasons” starring the late great John McColl as Sir Thomas More. The Common Man plays a different character in every scene, including The Executioner. Alan Jeffreys provided the actual axe used in the film and Don came down with such force every night, that Derek had to come in on the Saturday to repair and strengthen the high rostrum.
Other favourite productions include “Billy Liar”, “Toom Byers” directed by Effie Robertson, which when reviewed by The Scotsman newspaper, said that The Scottish Theatre Company would do well to come and listen to Leitheatre speaking Scots so well and naturally. Mr. Birling in “An Inspector Calls” was an enormous part and “The Widows of Clyth” was a wonderful and very moving play. The first “Whisky Galore” in 1985 was enormous fun and played to full houses on The Fringe. Don also negotiated sponsorship from Mackinlays Whisky, which we retained for many years following.
Don left Edinburgh to work in Derby and did not return to the club until 2000 when he got the call from Club President Mike Paton to say that a part was still uncast in “Time of My Life” and that was him back in the fold. Memorable parts followed in “The Lass Wi` The Muckle Mou”, “Dr Stein”, “The Crucible” (Giles Corey”, “A Wee Touch O` Class” , Educating Agnes”, “Harvey” and his last part as the village doctor in “Sunset Song”.
Don`s directorial debut was with “Willie Rough” which won the SCDA`s Fraser Neale Trophy for best play that year. He also directed “I Am A Camera” and “Paras Over The Barras”