By JUDITH CARRUTHERS
The Progressive Players, based at The Little Theatre in Gateshead, are 100 years old this year. Of course a milestone like this needs to be celebrated so they planned very carefully but nobody could have predicted the celebrations would come to a halt in such a dramatic way.
Long before 2020 we decided to prepare a special selection of plays for our centenary. We perform ten plays a year, only taking May and August off, so we decided to dive into our archive to find our plays for this special year.
We chose nine plays we have produced before, one from each decade, and a play we’ve never performed. The basis of this decision was that we are celebrating our past as well as looking to the future. Our selection was welcomed by members with great enthusiasm and we launched the year with Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw in January. It played to very appreciative audiences who loved the humour in this play. Many of the audience commented that they had not realised it would be such a fun evening. The cast loved this play and with some new members on stage we saw a glimpse of our future. So our special year began…
The play we have performed most often in our 100 years is She Stoops To Conquer. This play was selected to be produced in February but with a twist… the director moved it into the 1980s! This play was also very well received by our audiences and the cast clearly loved being part of it. The costumes and hair were really special in this one taking everybody on quite a nostalgia trip.
We felt we were moving along really well and our March play, Lettice and Lovage, was well into rehearsal with the set almost finished when everything stopped. Indeed the set is still up as a sad reminder of all the hard work that had already gone into this play. Our April production, The Diary of Anne Frank, was also in rehearsal with the promise of a very tense and dramatic play taking to the stage on 27 April.
There has been much agonising in our theatre as there will have been in theatres up and down the country as to what we do next. We feel we must finish our special programme and are hoping to pick up again in October with Macbeth which was previously performed by the PPs in 1949.
Other aspects of our centenary year have been completed successfully. We had a specially commissioned artwork created to go above our box office that was unveiled on New Year’s Eve to a chorus of ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaaahs’ and few ‘wows’ thrown in for good measure. We also have a special flag flying over our theatre this year so our centenary is being celebrated even when we are dark.
We now have a rainbow in one of our windows and our work of art is lit blue to say thank you to all those keeping our country going at this time. As in many communities we have a great spirit going – many of us have exchanged telephone numbers so we can help each other if we get ill. We already knew we had a great team spirit in our theatre but this challenge has pulled us even closer and we know we will come back stronger. We will continue to celebrate our centenary although slightly delayed by taking the plays we ‘lost’ in 2020 into 2021.
One thing is certain, in these uncertain times, we will never forget our centenary year.