Centenary Season 2020

Celebrating the Progressive Players Centenary 1920 - 2020

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Lettice and Lovage

by Peter Shaffer

23rd - 28th March 2020

Performed in: 1993

Jumping forward in time now, we have Lettice and Lovage, representing the 1990s. This will only be our second production of Peter Shaffer’s satirical, but once you’ve seen it, you’ll agree that it probably won’t be the last.

Flamboyant tour guide Lettice Douffet is bored. The real history of Fustian House, the Preservation Trust property she works at, is as dull as its name suggests. Dissatisfied with this, she takes it upon herself to embellish the story, which makes for a far more interesting visitor experience. However, her ambition to “Enlarge, Enliven, Enlighten!” does little to persuade her boss, Lottie Schoen. But she is intrigued and this sparks the beginning of a most unusual friendship, one which may just have a tragic end…

Written for Dame Maggie Smith, who originated the role of Lettice Douffet, this play is a wonderful vehicle for absurd comedy. Whilst she would follow Dame Maggie in playing the lead in The Lady in the Van, Sue Clark had to settle for her opposite number, Lotte Lovage, in our 1993 production. Prepare to be dazzled, dumbstruck and dismayed as Lettice Douffet does everything she can to “Enlarge, Enliven, Enlighten!” your evening. Who knows, you might even learn something!

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The Diary of Anne Frank

By Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett

27th April - 2nd May 2020

Performed in: 1959

Representing the 1950s in our Centenary season, we have the Diary of Anne Frank. Again, a play we have only performed once before, this incredibly moving adaptation is suitably poignant and one not to be missed.

Anne Frank is perhaps the most well-known victim of the Holocaust, due to her honest and deeply human account of her 25 months spent in hiding from the Gestapo in an Amsterdam attic. Her story was recorded in the pages of her diary, which was published by her father, Otto, years later. Generations have been moved by her optimism in the face of despair and her account of the ordinary teenage experiences of romance and growing up, set against the extraordinary backdrop of the very worst of humanity.

Goodrich and Hackett’s sensitive adaptation has been long regarded as the definitive theatrical retelling of this important story, and in 1997 returned to the New York stage with Natalie Portman in the title role. In our first production in 1959, family members William, Eileen and Wenda Dobson each played members of the Frank family. Most poignant are the words of the play’s director, Roland Errington: “Do not let us forget the minor characters in the play Miep and Kraler. So long as there are Mieps and Kralers in the world, so long is there hope for the future”.

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9 to 5 the Musical

Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick. Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture | Originally produced on Broadway by Robert Greenblatt, April 2009

Postponed until May 2021

9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL is getting down to business at the Little Theatre Gateshead.

Dolly Parton’s smash-hit musical is the most fun you’ll have in musical theatre all year.

With a rip-roaring score by the Queen of Country, it tells the story of three workmates pushed to boiling point by their sexist and egotistical boss. Concocting a plan to kidnap and turn the tables on their despicable supervisor, will the ladies manage to reform their office - or will events unravel when the CEO pays an unexpected visit?

Inspired by the hit film, this hilarious production is about teaming up, standing up and taking care of business!

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When We Are Married

by JB Priestley

8th - 13th June 2020

Performed in: 1945, 1964, 1983, 2005

JB Priestley’s satire of Britain’s ruling classes marks the 1960s portion of our season. This is a play that our audience never seems to tire of, and the reasons why are self-evident.

Thee couples, married on the same day, come together to celebrate their silver anniversary. However, a revelation about their marriages sends them spiralling as they re-evaluate their relationships with hilarious results. These pillars of society will do everything they can to avoid the truth coming out. We get the pleasure of watching them unravel. They’re joined by a drunken photographer, a scheming housemaid and the new church organist, whose values are far more modern.

JB Priestley is perhaps one of the best-known British playwrights of the 20th century and has an important place in history, both for his work boosting national morale during the Battle of Britain, and his role in influencing the introduction of the welfare state.

This play has the unique distinction of being one of our late President, Oliver Colvin’s, favourite plays and the last one he directed. It’s only right that, in our centenary year, we perform this play in the memory of a great man who did so much in service to the Progressive Players.

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And a Nightingale Sang

by CP Taylor

13th - 18th July 2020

Performed in: 1985, 1995

And A Nightingale Sang brings some local flavour in representing the 1980s for our centenary celebrations.

In this play, CP Taylor manages to represent the realities of life in Newcastle upon Tyne during the Second World War. Taking place over a number of years, And a Nightingale Sang (which takes its name from the Vera Lynn song And a Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square) follows the Stott family over the course of the war, focussing particularly on Helen and her burgeoning relationship with Norman. We also see her sister Joyce struggle to answer Eric’s marriage proposal, all whilst the family contend with day to day struggles of wartime life on Tyneside.

The play was originally commissioned by the Live Theatre Company and first performed there in 1977. Since then, it has been performed worldwide and was adapted for TV by Tyne Tees Television in 1989. When it was first performed by ourselves in 1985, one reviewer praised our “Geordie soul”, calling it a “a real winner”, in stark contrast to a West End production they’d seen, despite all it’s expensive trappings. It’s this same sense of local soul that we hope to imbue the play with when we return to it in July

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Relatively Speaking

by Alan Ayckbourn

7th - 12th September 2020

Performed in: 1970, 1987, 1999

As the name Alan Ayckbourn has become an almost permanent feature on our season leaflets, it’s only fitting that we delve into the archives and bring you the play that first put him on the map to represent the 1970s.

Relatively Speaking follows three couples over the course of an eventful Sunday. The problem: there are only four people, not six. We’ve Ginny, attempting to balance her current boyfriend and former lover; Greg, Ginny’s boyfriend who’s determined to meet her parents; Philip, Ginny’s former lover, attempting to hide it from his wife; and Sheila, Philip’s befuddled wife. Cue near misses, miscommunication and all the staples of an Ayckbourn farce.

Our original 1970 production was praised for its set and lighting design, the latter for “skilfully” evoking a “sun-drenched” summer cottage. Overall, a cast which “plunged straight into the deep-end of the humour” and the “professional touch” brought by director Eric Saint, resulted in a “delightfully constructed farce”. Ayckbourn had his first West End hit with this play in 1967 (after debuting in Scarborough in 1965), a production which also launched the career of Richard Briers. Since then, it’s been revived numerous times, most recently in 2013 with Felicity Kendall in the role of Sheila. Come September, you can live the good life too and enjoy this classic farce with us.

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by William Shakespeare

12th - 17th October 2020

Performed in: 1949

What celebration of theatre could be complete without an offering from William Shakespeare? We’ve chosen Macbeth (or the Scottish Play, if you’re superstitious) to represent the 1940s.

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is promised the crown by a trio of witches. Not content to wait, Macbeth seeks to make this happen, with the help of his equally ambitious wife. What follows is a spiral into madness as Macbeth attempts to hide his evil deeds and outrun his own guilt. But further prophecies only serve to unwind him further.

The Bard’s tale of ambition and guilt is perhaps just as famous for its off-stage drama as it is the high-strung, political intrigue that occurs onstage. Over the years, Macbeth has earned a reputation for sowing disaster in its wake. Say the name and face the consequences. If it slips out, there are a few remedies available to you. You can either turn around three times; spit over your left shoulder; or quote another Shakespeare play. A bluer alternative even suggests swearing!

We’ve performed numerous Shakespeare plays over the years, most recently The Taming of the Shrew in 2006, but have tended more towards his comedies, Macbeth being one of the few tragedies we’ve performed. In fact, it will have the distinction of becoming the first tragedy which we’ve tackled twice.

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by Anthony Shaffer

9th - 14th November 2020

Performed in: 2006

For our 2000s offering, we’ve decided to return to the Anthony Shaffer thriller Sleuth.

An eccentric man with a penchant for practical jokes holds a confrontation with his wife’s young lover and shoots him at point blank range. Then a police inspector turns up to investigate the young man’s disappearance. The rest is full of twists and turns as both the audience and the characters alike try and keep up with exactly what’s going on.

Shaffer allegedly based the play loosely on his good friend, composer Stephen Sondheim, who apparently had a penchant for practical jokes. The play has also been adapted for film on two occasions, both of which starred Michael Caine, albeit in different roles. He was joined on the first occasion by Laurence Olivier in 1972, then by Jude Law in 2006.

Our 2006 programme for the play (directed by James Bell and Elaine Wilson) describes the play as “a subtle psychological study of an inadequate and sexually obsessed middleaged man”, which certainly is enough to whet the appetite. It also featured Marc Jease and Jem Caesar as Inspector Doppler and Det. Sgt. Tarrant, respectively. Sadly, this was the only production both ever did with us. Maybe we should ask their co-stars, John Woods and Jim Race what happened to them?.

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Nell Gwynn

by Jessica Swale

7th - 12th December 2020

Performed in: Never before!

To round out our centenary season, we decided to look to the future and perform a play we’ve never done before. We’ll do so by looking to the history of British Theatre and telling the story of Nell Gwynn.

Nell Gwynn was a mere orange seller who went on to become one of the first female actors (that we know of) to take to the British stage. Described by Samuel Pepys as “pretty, witty Nell”, she became something of a folk hero, best known for her comic performances. Nell’s fame went beyond the stage though as she soon struck up a relationship with the newly-restored Charles II.

Swale’s biographical account was first performed at the Globe in 2015 and charts Nell’s rags-to-riches story from her discovery and debut, through her royal affair, until her final curtain call. Her life was full of drama, ripe for the stage. Swale also manages to capture the wit and charm which made Nell so beloved, not just by the King, but by the people of London.

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