2022 was an unusual year for the Progressive Players, and contained several significant firsts. The Covid-19 pandemic had sadly decimated our centenary celebrations in 2020; of our ten scheduled plays, only two (Pygmalion and She Stoops to Conquer) were able to be performed before the Little Theatre Gateshead was forced to close its doors in March of that year. We were delighted to reopen in October 2021 with David Tristram’s very topical comedy, Lockdown in Little Grimley. Due to the ongoing influences of Covid-19 we took the precautionary decision to revise our regular pattern of ten plays down to five for 2022.
In January we staged My Brilliant Divorce by Geraldine Aron. This comedy-drama focuses on middle-aged Angela as she attempts to rebuild her life after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. It was a notable production for the Progressive Players, being the first in our history to have a cast of one.
March was a particularly busy month. First up was the world premiere performance of An Evil Thing by local playwright Sarah-May Simpson. Set in Tyneside during the Second World War, the play concerns Betty King, a 12-year-old bully whose sadistic tendencies take a deadly turn. This was the Progressive Players’ entry in the 2022 Durham & Sunderland One Act Festival, held at the Alun Armstrong Theatre in Stanley, County Durham. The production won the trophy for Best Supporting Actor/Actress and the Allan Monkhouse Award for Best New Play.
Later in March, back at the Little Theatre Gateshead, we presented And a Nightingale Sang by CP Taylor. It’s a much-loved bittersweet romantic comedy set in Newcastle during World War 2, in which the close-knit Stott family live from one day to the next amid air-raid sirens and fears of poison gas attacks. We were delighted to receive a good luck letter from one of the region’s favourite sons, actor Kevin Whately. He wrote:
I’m so pleased to hear that the Nightingale is returning to the North East.
We toured the Newcastle Playhouse production of AND A NIGHTINGALE SANG straight after the West End run in 1980. My ‘Eric’ wasn’t my subtlest performance, but on the tour Madelaine Newton, who was playing ‘Helen’ and I paired-up, so it has romantic memories for us.
Cecil Taylor’s career began with a commission from Live Theatre, and David Tennant is about to star in a new West End run of GOOD, so it’s nice to know that his work is still alive and kicking all over the country long after Cecil’s death.
Hope you have as much fun as we did, and lots of success.
In June we staged Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code, a play which examines the life and achievements of Alan Turing, mathematician, scientist and philosopher. Now famous for his wartime codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, Turing’s homosexuality led to his prosecution for gross indecency in 1952. Our production fittingly took place during Pride Month, with one performance coinciding with the anniversary of Turing’s death on 7th June 1954.
With some of the anxieties surrounding Covid-19 gradually lessening, we opted to slot in an extra production in July. The award-winning An Evil Thing was chosen, giving the play its first outing at the Little Theatre Gateshead. In keeping with the play’s dark themes of child abuse and domestic violence, we donated 50% of the ticket sales (a sum of over £1,700) to the charity Changing Lives.
August heralded another major first for the Progressive Players; our debut appearance at the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival! We staged six performances of An Evil Thing to appreciative audiences at Paradise in Augustines, a lovely venue just down the road from the bustling Royal Mile.
Our play for September was The Wasp. This startling thriller by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm asks how far beyond the playground we carry our childhood experiences and to what lengths some people are willing to go in order to come to terms with them.
In November we presented another old favourite; Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, a comedy by Constance Cox, based on the short story by Oscar Wilde. Warned by a fortune-teller that he is destined to commit a murder, Lord Arthur decides it would be best to fulfil the prophecy before he marries!
December’s production was a very different venture for us – a festive daytime entertainment for children aged between three and eight! The Elf Who Saved Santa, specially written and directed by Progressive Players chairperson Marian Walker, proved to be immensely popular with a whole new generation of theatre-goers. So much so, in fact, that we’re planning to make it an annual event!
2022 has been a successful – and innovative – year for the Progressive Players. We’ve got a super schedule of plays lined up for the new year, starting in January with Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense by The Goodale Brothers. We look forward to welcoming audiences to our shows at the Little Theatre Gateshead – and beyond! – in 2023.