Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Red Letter Day for Venue That Isn't That Little

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Red Letter Day for Venue That Isn't That Little

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen McLauchlan reports

OCTOBER 21, 2007, will be a big day for Middlesbrough Theatre. It'll be exactly 50 years since the Little Theatre, as it was then called, was opened by Sir John Gielgud.

The first architect-designed theatre to be built after the Second World War, it was the result of nearly four decades of hard work and dedication by the local amateur theatre community.

With the closure of the Opera House in the 1920s, representatives from more than 40 dramatic societies met to consider forming a company to keep live theatre active in the area and in 1930 Middlesbrough Little Theatre was formed.

The society took a large house in Linthorpe called Parkside as its headquarters and the first production - Percy Robinson's To What Red Hell - took place in St John's Hall that November.

Facilities were far from ideal, but the outbreak of war put the brake on plans for a proper theatre.

Fund-raising began again in earnest in 1944. It was originally intended to build the theatre in the grounds of Parkside but this had to be abandoned due to compulsory purchase of the site for road improvements and in 1950 the Society purchased Toft House in the Avenue, which became their new headquarters.

Building costs and the restrictions on materials in the early fifties caused further delays until the London architects of Elder and de Pierro were engaged to design a new theatre in 1955.

When it finally opened in 1957, the costs had risen from an initial estimate pounds 15,000 to pounds 53,657 but a last-minute grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation - announced by the chairman on the opening night - meant the theatre opened debt-free.

MLT initially ran the theatre independently, presenting their own productions, those of other amateur operatic and dramatic societies as well as hosting visits from professional companies.

By the mid 1960s rising costs were proving too burdensome for them and in 1974 a separate trust was set up with Middlesbrough Council as sole trustees.

Today, the theatre is managed by the cultural services section of the council, responsible also for the Town Hall and major events throughout the borough.

In 1997, the name of the theatre was changed to Middlesbrough Theatre, not least because with 486 seats and a stage 70ft x 40ft, it isn't that little!

MLT still uses Toft House as its base and theatre club.

Members perform regularly in the theatre and its youth section, Middlesbrough Youth Theatres, is one of the largest voluntarily-run youth theatres in the country.

Many of the amateur operatic societies who presented shows in the early years also still perform there annually.

To celebrate this wealth of local talent, the theatre is presenting a special GALA CONCERT on the anniversary itself, Sunday, October 21. …

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