The Caprian Theatre Company logo, featuring Capricorn, the goat

60 years of the Caprian Theatre Company

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, we asked Little Theatre regulars, The Caprian Theatre Company, to tell us a little bit about their history and what their 60th year has in store.

The Company is based in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear County, in the North East of England.

In 1953 a group of students from the Grammar school formed a choir. The name of the choir, The Caprians, was chosen.

A goat’s head is incorporated in the emblem of the former school. Using the link of the school to the goat, the tenth sign of the Zodiac is Capricorn, the sign of the goat, the name Caprian is a derivation of Capricorn. The choir members celebrated its fifty years of existence with a concert in the Dryden Professional Development Centre, formerly the Gateshead girls Grammar School, on Saturday 6th December 2003.

Some of those choir members decided in 1964 to form an Operatic Society for the purpose of presenting their first musical production, Salad Days by Sandy Wilson in 1965. It was decided to retain the link with the school and the name Caprian Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society was chosen. The venue for this production was the Little Theatre Gateshead, the only purpose built theatre in Gateshead. To this day all of the musical productions, with one exception have been performed in this venue.

The then Society became affiliated to the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, NODA, and due to the geographic location was assigned to its Northern Area. Many of the musical productions are claimed to be Northern Premier productions being the first time that the shows were presented by amateurs in the NODA Northern Area. It was always intended that musical productions, although not a constitutional requirement, would wherever possible be chosen from the list of shows which were suitable for a small cast and venue and not from the list of popular shows so often presented by the other larger societies in the area. This principle has always been adhered to although some of the shows that were produced eventually became popular enough for the other larger societies to present.

The first pantomime presentation was Aladdin in 1967 at the Little Theatre. Three more pantomimes were to be presented there until it was realised that the venue was too small for such productions. Seating capacity of only 187 was not enough to satisfy the demand by patrons and with such a small capacity it was difficult to recover costs with the subsequent risk of running a show at a financial loss. The larger venue of the now demolished Heathfield Senior High School was the venue for the first production outside of the Little Theatre, Red Riding Hood in 1972. Since the following year all pantomime productions have taken place at the then Gateshead Girls Grammar School now named the Dryden Centre. Sadly the Dryden Centre was closed by Gateshead Council in 2023 as a cost saving measure, with no indication as to when, if ever, it will reopen. The company pantomime cannot go ahead until the Centre reopens.

The Society name was changed in 2006 to the Caprian Theatre Company.

In the sixty years since our first production the Company has performed 56 Musicals and 48 Pantomimes. Many have received awards from NODA for best performance. Our show programmes have also received NODA awards.

With the exception of one musical production, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying in 2005, was performed in the Dryden Centre due to a problem with dates, all of the musicals have been performed in the Little Theatre Gateshead. Staging shows in the Little Theatre presented its problems, as most shows of this nature require multiple scene changes and off stage storage of properties and scenery. Neither was there any space to accommodate musicians in any great number. This led to innovative measures devised to overcome the shortage of off stage space in order to make scene changing possible. Scenery builders relished the challenge and had huge success in making the impossible, possible.
In recent years, audience habits changed, such that changes were made to performance times and dates. Gone is the Monday to Saturday evenings only and typically as most companies in the area have done the same, with a midweek start and Saturday matinee and early evening performances. These changes have on the whole led to increased ticket sales creating vital revenue, which greatly helps to cover costs associated with the production. Little or no profit is realised and any surplus is channelled into funding the next show, as money is needed to enable the rehearsal costs etc. to be financed for the period leading up to the performance of the show on stage.

In order to reflect audience preferences, changes have been made in show choice by presenting more of the ‘mainstream’ musicals. Recent productions have included Chicago; Nine to Five, and more recently Little Shop of Horrors. However it does not end there as this year, 2024, in their 60th year, not one but two shows are to be presented in the Little Theatre. The first in May is to be a repeat of The Drowsy Chaperone first performed by the Company in 2013, followed by The Addams Family in October.

The Drowsy Chaperone, pays tribute to the jazz-age shows of the 1930’s and the power those shows held to transport us into a dazzling fantasy and to lift our spirits in times of sadness. The narrator, Man in the Chair, sitting on a darkened stage greets the audience.

The Man in the Chair, a mousy, agoraphobic, Broadway fanatic, seeking to cure his non specific sadness, listens to a recording of a fictional musical comedy. As he listens to this rare recording he is transported into the musical.

Robert Martin is set to marry Janet van de Graaf, a young Broadway starlet giving up performing on stage. However, between Janet’s inebriated Chaperone, the oblivious hostess Mrs. Tottendale, the egomaniacal lothario Aldolpho, and Janet’s producer, Feldzieg scheming to stop the impending marriage and keep her performing on stage, there are more than enough hijinks to go around! The show is not short of comedy moments, often led by a couple of gangsters hired by Feldzieg to prevent the impending wedding going ahead. Will they succeed? The secret will be revealed during the run of the show at the Little Theatre

Show poster for the Drowsy Chaperone, a musical presented by The Caprian Theatre Company

Wednesday May 8th to Saturday 11th. Wednesday to Friday at 7-15pm and Saturday at 2-00pm and 6-00pm.

The Addams Family

In the kooky, upside-down world of the Addams Family, to be sad is to be happy, to feel pain is to feel joy, and death and suffering are the stuff of their dreams. Nonetheless, this quirky family still has to deal with many of the same challenges faced by any other family, and the spookiest nightmare faced by every family creates the focus Lippa, Brickman, and Elice’s musical: the Addams kids are growing up. The Addamses have lived by their unique values for hundreds of years and Gomez and Morticia, the patriarch and matriarch of the clan, would be only too happy to continue living that way. Their dark, macabre, beloved daughter Wednesday, however, is now an eighteen year-old young woman who is ready for a life of her own. She has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke, a sweet, smart boy from a normal, respectable Ohio family, the most un-Addams sounding person one could be! And to make matters worse, she has invited the Beinekes to their home for dinner. In one fateful, hilarious night, secrets are disclosed, relationships are tested, and the Addams family must face up to the one horrible thing they’ve managed to avoid for generations: change.

The Addams Family - a new musical comedy

October 2024 – Exact performance details to be confirmed

To celebrate the sixty years other events are in the pipeline but are still in the planning stage.

The Little Theatre congratulates the Caprians on their 60th anniversary, and we hope we’ll carry on seeing you on our stage for many years to come.