ABOUT THREE COURSE
Christa Spencer, a member of the Guisborough Theatre Club, and a bit of a 'foodie' if the truth be told, came up with the idea of combining a theatrical performance with a good meal. The great advantage of combining the two being: having booked your pre-show meal, you eliminate the anxiety of making sure it is served punctually so that you can get to the theatre on time, and you don't have to tear yourself away from the nice cosy atmosphere of the restaurant.
She presented the idea to the members at a general meeting, with some mixed reception. For a successful amateur group, having an excellent record of good productions at a single venue, launching into a new concept can be a bit daunting. Still, the idea gained some momentum, which is when I was approached and asked if I would direct the first play.
From then on the idea snowballed, a play and venue were selected and it was full steam ahead. It was decided that a charity should benefit from the whole enterprise, with the mental health Middlesbrough Mind being selected.
The play chosen was the one act play The Ass and the Philosophers by Gwyneth Jones (suitable broken down into three roughly equal sub-acts). The chosen venue was the Thistle Hotel in Middlesbrough that Christa had contacts with. It was quickly realised that one venue could only support one performance, so a second venue, Rushpool Hall, Saltburn-by-the Sea (that I had contacts with) was organised, with the proceeds from this one going to my chosen charity, the Friends of Murambinda Hospital (see the FMH page).
Casting, rehearsals, costumes, props, etc. flowed as they always do with a well run drama group. Portable lighting and sound equipment were borrowed from Middlesbrough College, and a portable set built on my front drive. Also borrowed was a van to transport all the clobber in. Three Course Theatre ~ Guisborough Theatre Club on the Move was on the move.
The Thistle Hotel were generous and allowed us time to do a dress rehearsal at the venue a couple of days before the actually performance and to leave everything there in a storeroom, which was really helpful.
The layout at Rushpool Hall, because of the shape of the available function room, meant that we would have to perform in 'traverse theatre' style, with audience either side of the acting area, not in front. This called for a re-orientation rehearsal, which was made into an open rehearsal for all club members to come to if they wished. The cast adapted admirably to the novel situation, and it was really only the ending and 'walk-down' that need much work.
The Rushpool Hall performance went well with the slightly adjusted blocking and the whole venture judged a success.
A change in direction...
Although the two performances were well received, I felt the effort that had gone into the production was worthy of a bigger audience. Ticket sales had been fair, but it seemed unlikely that the concept was really working as well as hoped. Generating an audience at additional venues was unlikely to work. My plan was that we should do a 'with meal' performance at one venue, but add on a number of touring performances at other venues where no meal is involved.
To be able to have the flexibility in making the complex arrangements required to go on even a small tour, Christa and I set up Three Course Theatre as a completely separate, independent entity, putting all decisions firmly in our own hands.
Casting for the first production, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, was duly advertised - my intention had been to reprise the Adam Long part, which I had performed in the Nunthorpe Players production a couple of years earlier. However, three friends from Middlesbrough College, Charlie, Charley (who had been in the The Ass and the Philosophers) and Aaron came along, and I had to admit, that all three worked well as a team, and so I reluctantly gave up my desire of taking the stage. It was a wise decision as it turned out, given the amount of work involved in directing, producing, set designing and building, etc. Also, Aaron was splendid in the part. We were grateful to the three authors of the play for waving their royalties for the performances, since it was for charity. The Thistle again provided the venue for the meal + performance night. Amongst the other venues was the Stokesley Town Hall and Great Broughton Village Hall.
The third play to be performed, Romanov and Juliet, by Peter Ustinov, required a much larger cast, but eventually all the roles were filled, with the venue for meal + performance being a function room at the Riverside Stadium.
The play, quirky as it was, was well received - I think! Profits from the production went to FMH and to the Holistic Cancer Care Centre at the James Cook University Hospital.
It is sad, looking back, that three of the actors from that production, Reg Hinton, John Lindley and Andrew Bartkiw, people with whom I had worked with for many years, have since died.
There then followed a couple of years of inactivity (as far as Three Course Theatre was concerned), as the effort of putting on these productions was proving to be a bit overwhelming. A worsening heart condition wasn't making things any easier for me.
However, an invitation to do something Shakespeare related at Stokesley Town Hall, for the Stokesley Engineers' Annual Dinner proved too much of a temptation and The Incomplete Works of William Shakespeare (shortened) was created, based very much on the idea of The Complete Works... but with a different opening. Rather than give a thumbnail sketch of Shakespeare, the script starts with a discourse on the thorny subject of whether it was he, or someone else that wrote the plays. The claim that a play like The Merchant of Venice must have been written by someone with an intimate knowledge of that City and not by Shakespeare, since he'd never left the country, is demolished by the fact that at no stage in the play is there a single mention of Venice's most prominent feature - its canals! This time I was allowed to take part in the play.
Never say 'Never again!'
Having re-awoken Three Course Theatre it was time for a proper touring production, but without a meal at any of the six venues selected around Teesside, stretching up to Castle Eden in Co. Durham. The original meal + performance concept was regretfully abandoned.
The play chosen was An Empty Plate at the Café du Grande Boeuf by Michael Hollinger, another quirky play, but one that I hoped would appeal. A brand new set , which need to include a pair of two-way swing doors, was built and painted on my front drive. The door fortunately worked properly in spite being moved from venue to venue, as did the simulated crème brûlée, the only food actually seen and served during the performance . The cast did a great job, unfortunately the play did not have quite the appeal I thought it might, and the audiences were disappointingly small. We were grateful to those venues which waved their hire charges and to Michael Hollinger for waving his royalties, so at least we were able to give a reasonable amount to the Friends of Murambinda Hospital at the end of it all. We were also grateful for rehearsal space, costume and other facilities extended to us by Middlesbrough Little Theatre (MLT), including their Studio Theatre as one of the venues.
More to keep the name Three Course Theatre alive, we reprised The Incomplete Works... as a contribution to the Nunthorpe Players Late Summer Show in September 2016.
For the future...
It had been hoped that Three Course Theatre would enter a play into the Saltburn '53 Society Drama Festival in March 2022. However, permission to use the script for the chosen play was unfortunately and unavoidably delayed and there was insufficient time to prepare it for performance.
Plans are now well underway to perform a double bill of two very different one act plays on the theme of love under the title Two Ways to Woo. Both plays are written by Alistair Briche, who has generously waved royalty fees for this production. The two plays will use the same three actors and will be performed at four different venues in the Teesside area. The production will be in association with Middlesbrough Little Theatre, who are generously providing rehearsal space and their Studio as one of the venues
There then remains the possibility of reviving both plays for entry into next years Saltburn Drama Festival!
Please see the Next Production page for details.