Doncaster Little Theatre toasts 20th anniversary

NDFP Little Theatre Doncaster   Back Bench Margret Best, Angela Wren, Amy Bidmead, Michael Houghton, Craig Cooke
NDFP Little Theatre Doncaster Back Bench Margret Best, Angela Wren, Amy Bidmead, Michael Houghton, Craig Cooke

It is tucked away down a narrow town centre side street, but behind the doors of an unremarkable brick built former tile factory, magic has been unfolding for two decades.

Doncaster Little Theatre is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and since its humble beginnings, more than 140,000 people have flocked through its doors to turn it into one of the town’s most popular entertainment venues.

And the team behind the compact and cosy little theatre are determined that the success story will continue to keep the theatre in the spotlight for many more years to come.

The theatre has helped launch the careers of some of TV’s best-known stars BAFTA winner Sheridan Smith and Downtown Abbey’s Thomas Howes, and will notch up its 20th anniversary in March.

The former tile factory in King Street has hosted countless plays, productions, bands and dozens of other acts and attractions.

Amy Bidmead, 27, who has been with the venue for 14 years, says she is proud of how far the theatre has come and is looking forward to seeing it move forward in the years ahead.

“There have been a lot of changes, but we are still here and looking forward to taking the Little Theatre onto another part of its history,” she says.

“We have such a great bunch of people down here, everyone works together and are dedicated to driving the theatre forward.”

The venue has its origins as far back as the 1930s when a group of theatre enthusiasts formed the Doncaster Literary Society.

The Lit, as it became to be known, staged productions at the Civic Theatre, which has now been demolished and replaced with the new performance venue Cast.

However, in the early 1990s, group members decided that they needed their own venue.

Amy adds: “They looked around and found an old tile factory in Doncaster town centre. It was very rundown, but ideal for what they wanted.”

And, after a year of hard work to transform the brick building into an intimate 99-seat theatre, Doncaster Little Theatre opened for the first time in March 1995 with a production of the Deep Blue Sea.

Original founders Jan and Len Townend and Kevin Spence set the ball rolling, gutting the building and installing seating, a stage, lounge area, box office and dressing rooms as well as a backstage area.

Sheridan, fresh from winning best drama performance at the National Television Awards for her portrayal of 60s singer Cilla Black in Cilla, was a member of the Young Lit group, following in the footsteps of her parents Marilyn and Colin, a popular country music duo on the Doncaster clubland circuit.

Meanwhile Thomas starred as a footman in the ITV period drama smash hit and still stages his own shows at the venue.

“Sheridan was before my time but I remember working with Thomas,” Amy says.

“I was with him at school and we did musicals together. He hasn’t forgotten his roots because he still stages shows here and always mentions us in interviews.”

Daniel Hodson, who has worked behind the scenes with lighting and staging for several years, says working at the DLT has helped him learn his trade.

He recalls: “A friend told me and I went along to see what it was about. I came and did one show and was hooked.

“I would love to continue what I am doing, once you come along its in your blood.”

To celebrate the milestone, the theatre – which boasts more than 100 members and helpers who are involved in everything from acting to production, behind the scenes work and even manning the bar – will be staging a production of TV sitcom classic The Last of The Summer Wine with a 20th anniversary party on Friday, March 13.

Organisers are looking for anyone with memories and photographs to get in touch to help create a display marking the annivesary which will go on show in the foyer on a specially created ‘memory wall.’

Anyone with old pictures, stories or season guides connected to the theatre is asked to email or comment on the theatre’s Facebook page where people can also discover more about joining the theatre and getting involved both on stage and behind the scenes.