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A Brief History of Newcastle upon Tyne Musical Theatre Company

Sixty years ago, on Wednesday, 12th May 1948, a meeting took place at 109 Pilgrim Street in Newcastle City Centre, just south of the stage door of the Theatre Royal. Prior to World War II, there had been a Newcastle upon Tyne Amateur Operatic Society but information is sketchy. The first production, in 1897, was called ‘Dorothy’ and shows were presented at the Theatre Royal on Grey Street. So, allowing for interruption by enemy action, 1997 might have been the Company’s 100th Anniversary. What we do know, for sure, is that 2008 will definitely be the Company’s 60th Anniversary in its present incarnation, although the name has gradually become more modern and accurate. At first there was the long-winded Newcastle upon Tyne & District Amateur Operatic Society. By 1994 that had been whittled down to Newcastle Operatic Society. Then a decision was taken to try to make the name truly reflect what the Company does. In January 2005 we became Newcastle Musical Theatre Company (‘NMTC’).

Between May 1948 and October 1949 the foundations were laid of the organisation which now bears that name. The man who organised that meeting and arranged to slot at the Theatre Royal was Albert Schofield. He went on to produce/direct all the Company’s shows (except one, due to ill health) until 1970. The first show was ‘Merrie England’ which featured Nan Gray as Queen Elizabeth. The Society’s former Vice Chairman, Margaret Gray (now a Vice President), is her niece; and our Executive Vice President, Alderman Colin Gray (Margaret’s cousin) is her nephew which gives the Company a sense of continuity despite passing years and changes of name.

The seventeen months between May 1948 to October 1949 must have been a nerve wracking time. Each Board Member contributed a guinea (£1.05) to float the Company - a total of £10.50. The Theatre’s hire charge turned out to be £650 so they resolved to share any losses equally. Fortunately, ‘Merrie England’ netted £871.90 - at a time when an average house cost about £1,800. Quite an achievement but what a pleasure it would be to manage the equivalent today!

Since 1949, the Company has presented a major production in Newcastle City centre at least once a year except 1986 during refurbishments at the Theatre Royal. Those productions have featured the cream of amateur talent from Northumberland, Durham, Tyneside and further afield.

NMTC is proud to have worked with a series of Producers/Directors in creating a stream of memorable shows over the last sixty years. In addition to the Theatre Royal, venues have included the City Hall in 1951 and Tyne Theatre & Opera House (now the Journal Tyne Theatre) in 1987 and 2006. For the past two years there have also been Junior Showcases in May at The Peoples’ Theatre in Heaton. The connection with the Theatre Royal enabled the Company to provide extras for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of ‘Measure for Measure’ (two separate versions), ‘Richard III’, ‘Julius Caesar’, and ‘Hamlet’; and a group of witches for a production of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’! Twenty members of the Company ‘walked the lights’ during pre-production for the Really Useful Group when they brought ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to Newcastle, helping the technical crew set the computerised lighting system which was so much part of that production.

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