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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tyne > Places > Places features > Little Theatre, big ideas

The Little Theatre, Gateshead

The theatre is opposite Saltwell Park

Little Theatre, big ideas

The Little Theatre in Gateshead may be small by name but its members have big ambitions.

"I might as well just bring a camp bed and sleep in the theatre," says Judith Hind with a laugh. "I'm going to be here every day and every night at this rate!"

Judith is one of the 100 or so members of the Progressive Players theatre group, which is resident at the Little Theatre in Gateshead.

Judith Hind, Don Walker and Annett Pecher look at a scrap book

Judith with fellow players Don and Annett

As manager of one of the set teams and director of the next play she's expecting a busy few weeks ahead - but then the company is pretty much always on the go.

The Progressive Players set themselves the ambitious target of putting on 10 week-long productions each year, which means more often than not they're working on three plays simultaneously.

"Literally as soon as one play finishes we take the set down that night," Judith explains.

"Then the next morning the crew starts building the set for the next play and the cast for the next-but-one play starts rehearsing at the same time too. So it's just a constant turnover of people."

It's a pretty heavy schedule for an amateur group and requires a high level of commitment from every member, the majority of whom have day jobs too.

Actors at the Little Theatre in Gateshead in the 1940s

A 1940s production at the theatre

"There are a lot of jobs that have to be done," says Judith, who is a teacher.

"It's not just the obvious things, like the acting and technical side. There's the coffee shop and the bar to staff, and there's all the front of house [jobs] and the box office too, because we man that in the week before each play as well.

"It is a lot for people to take on but we've got a lot of people who like to do it."

Unusual building

The Little Theatre itself is an intriguing building. Dating back to the 1940s, it's actually in the space that should be occupied by numbers one to four Saltwell View, which overlooks Saltwell Park in Gateshead.

The auditorium itself is where houses number one and two would have been (though in fact these houses were never built).

The Little Theatre, Gateshead, in the 1970s

The theatre as it looked in the 1970s

Meanwhile, the rooms in numbers three and four Saltwell View, (which still look from the outside like normal houses but inside are connected to the adjoining theatre), are used for other purposes such as storing costumes and rehearsals.

"There's all kinds of little nooks and crannies in this place," Judith says. "You turn a corner and there's something else that you haven't seen [before] or someone tells you something else you didn't know."

Each part of the building has its own story to tell - even the 188 seats in the auditorium.

Even if you've never been to the theatre before you may have sat on one of them already because they used to be in the old Warner Brothers cinema in Newcastle.

When the cinema closed some of the seats were offered to the Little Theatre and members of the Progressive Players ferried them across the River Tyne themselves.

Dressing up

One of the real gems of the theatre its wardrobe department.

Woman with costume at the Little Theatre, Gateshead

Maureen with one of the period costumes

Racks upon racks of clothes and shoes are crammed into several rooms on the upper floors, with some items dating all the way back to the Victorian era. It's a vintage clothes lover's paradise.

There are evening dresses, day dresses, skirts, suits, trousers and party frocks. Blouses, coats, raincoats, jackets, boots and high heels.

Fabrics and fashions of all colours and from all eras, from Edwardian to the 80s, are arranged in rough chronological order.

It's a bit like a giant dressing up box.

Some of the clothes in the collection were specially made for certain productions but a large proportion were received as donations.

One person's fashion faux pas becomes wardrobe director Maureen Duffy's gain.

"Sometimes you buy a thing, you wear it once and you think 'Oh, what was I thinking of?!' So people give things like that to us," Maureen says.

Production of Lady and the Van at Little Theatre, Gateshead

A production of Lady and the Van

"We do still occasionally make costumes but what we do more often now is alter things. We lengthen, we shorten, we take a dart in, we put an extra panel in the back, we do an awful lot of alterations like that."

The collection is so vast that you find yourself breathing in to squeeze between the tightly-packed rails and Maureen and her assistant Marie Brown have their hands full trying to keep them all in tip-top condition.

But surprisingly moths aren't a problem - Maureen has a cunning trick.

"You see that little thing hanging on the ceiling up there?," she says. "It's a soft fruit case with a bit of toliet soap in it. That's a tip I got donkey's years ago and, touch wood, so far so good!"

Find out more about the Progressive Players and upcoming productions at the Little Theatre on their website.

last updated: 09/06/2009 at 16:58
created: 09/06/2009

You are in: Tyne > Places > Places features > Little Theatre, big ideas



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