STOURBRIDGE theatre group Side By Side has been bucking the trend by increasing the size of its audiences.

While many amateur groups have been struggling to sell tickets, Side By Side has seen attendances increase by 15 per cent.

The award-winning group's recent performance of Illyria-on-Sea, which took place in June, broke all ticket sales.

Side By Side has been steadily progressing since 1997 when former teacher Susan Wallin MBE formed the group while working at Stourbridge College.

Despite all having learning disabilities - members have risen to such a standard that the group has become part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Project and has reaped huge praise from the RSC's project director Ian Wainwright.

Members of the RSC will also be watching Side by Side at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where they will perform at Augustine's on George IV Bridge from August 12 to 16.

It's the sixth time the group will have performed at the prestigious festival; this time members hope to wow the crowds with their version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Founder and artistic director Susan Wallin said: "Being part of the RSC has given us tremendous kudos. We have people coming from all over the Black Country just to be part of the group.

"They absolutely live for it and love performing. They can't wait to get new scripts and are so committed. They even take their scripts on holiday with them.

"All the actors are completely self reliant and have no help on stage. They are completely on their own when they perform."

"We're very lucky because we have many supporters and numbers continue to increase. We have 17 in the group going to Edinburgh and another 25 in the dance class. We meet at New Road Methodist Church and at AGE UK in St Johns.

"Emma Francis also runs another group for beginners at the Baptist Church in Hanbury Hill.

"As a result, Emma is unable to continue as stage manager, because she has a full time job. We need someone who can help by sparing a couple of days in the week."

Anyone interested can contact Susan Wallin on 07929 352239 or at