Drama Group Plays Its Part in Sequel; When a North East Drama Company Decided to Call It a Day, Opportunity Knocked for Others, as David Whetstone Explains

Article excerpt

IT was with great sadness that the remaining members of Gosforth Theatre Company voted at their 2007 agm to disband, bringing the curtain down on 64 years of amateur drama.

But a phoenix has risen from the ashes - or, rather, a flock of them. For a host of other North East performance groups has benefited from the demise of the Gosforth company.

The sale of its headquarters generated pounds 150,000 which is being held in trust by the Community Foundation as the 43 Fund.

The first grants, totalling pounds 28,000, have just been distributed to 15 performance-related projects, including the junior drama group of Springwell Village Hall Association, Gateshead, members of whom are pictured here.

Barbara Panes, a committee member on the 43 Fund panel and an ex-member of Gosforth Theatre Company, said: "I'm thrilled that the legacy of Gosforth Theatre Company is able to continue through the 43 Fund at the Community Foundation.

"I don't know what we would have done without them. It's wonderful to see all of these amateur dramatics societies and community theatre groups developing with the help of the 43 Fund. Hopefully they will continue to do so." Barbara, who lives in Heaton, joined the Gosforth amateurs after arriving in the North East from Cambridge in 1987. Her first role was as the maid in a play about the Bronts.

For 20 years she was involved in the company with its busy annual programme of productions.

As with most amateur theatre companies, the Gosforth one benefited from the enthusiasm, energy and creativity of its members, many of whom devoted much of their leisure time to it.

The company began in 1943 when a group of friends began to meet in each other's homes to read plays, perhaps as a distraction from the Second World War. An amateur drama society was born and named Gosforth 43 Society. Its first public production was Other People's Houses, by Lynne Dexter, which was performed in September 1945 in Gosforth's Presbyterian Church Hall.

From 1950, productions were staged in the new Central Hall, built as Gosforth's war memorial.

The company's archive recalls that the high point was in the mid 1950s when it boasted nearly 200 members and a full social calendar with an annual dinner dance.

Productions included Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1955) and Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage (1956), the latter the first UK amateur production of a Brecht play.

Permission to stage it was obtained from the playwright himself shortly before he died.

In 1962, suffering from a lack of space, the company purchased a clubhouse, in fact a large Edwardian semi, with a garden, at 44 Salter's Road, Gosforth.

As Barbara Panes recalls, the clubhouse was a great asset as a meeting place and for storing props and costumes. There was room for rehearsing and for the staging of experimental or in-house productions.

In 1974 the Central Hall was burned down and productions transferred to Gosforth Civic Hall.

The archive recalls various creative differences over the years as traditionalists battled with those who favoured more challenging shows.

In 1972, when a new producer was allowed to present his own adaptation of Cinderella, the committee were so appalled that they returned the ticket money and sent out letters of apology - whereon the producer and seven actors resigned.

While no member went on to fame and fortune on stage, one Mark Knopfler - later to become a famous musician - was cast in an Arthur Miller play, Ah Wilderness, in 1966. …

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