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The Progress Theatre is one of those cultural and social gems of Reading, and in particular of Redlands. It sits on the corner of The Mount and Christchurch Road,  a few yards west along form the Queens Head pub and opposite Cintra Avenue.. It is a very modest building which has worked hard to make a comfortable and inviting auditrorum and bar/lounge area. In 1964 after a massive fund raising campaign the freehold of the building was bought.


The size of the theatre though gives no clue to the strength and quality of its productions. Over many years it has performed the classics and the avant garde. And also an annual Christmas production.


The renowned actress Dame Judi Dench (M in the Bond films!) is Hon.President of the Theatre.


 

I have seen several; productions (incl. works by Stoppard, Shakespeare),  here over the years and must start going back again. I also held a one man exhibition of my art works here in 1979, as I was keen at the time to bring the visual arts to other cultural and social establishments other than art galleries.


 

Student Group

In the 1950s a Student Group for 14 to 18 year olds was created, offering instruction in many aspects of theatre. It has run this very well organised Student Group for several years- and one its it members was a young chap from Medway School by the name of... Kenneth Brannagh! He made his very first public theatre performance here. Another member of the student group was the 1960s pop singer (now an actress) Marianne Faithful.

As of 2009, the Progress Youth Theatre consists of two groups for 15 to 18 year olds and groups for school years 4 to 6 (ages 8 to 11), 7 to 8 (ages 11 to 13) and 9 to 10 (ages 13 to 15).All of the groups have an opportunity to give a yearly public performance.


Wolfgang van Emden (1931-2002),

 Professor of French at Reading University from 1974 to 1996, was a distinguished scholar – a meticulous medievalist and an inspiring teacher, was also a performing member of Progress. He played alongside Kenneth Brannagh in his very first play The Drunkard in the 1970s.


Peter Strickland 

Is now an independent film director from Reading has scooped a prestigious prize at the London Evening Standard British Film Awards. But he honed his directing skills at Reading's amateur Progress Theatre."I learnt much about directing by taking small roles in plays and working my way up to directing my own adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis," he says.Peter Strickland has also won a Silver Bear award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the Berlin Film Festival and the European Discovery of the Year award at the European Film Awards in 2009. His acclaimed film Katalin Varga was filmed on location in Transylvania



 (all text above:  © Stephen B. Cox)

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History

|(from their website)

 "The Progress Theatre was established in 1946 by a young, enthusiastic and futuristic group of Reading people as a voluntary theatre group in Reading to present new and challenging productions.

The first production was staged in 1947 and for five years performances were in Palmer Hall, West Street. The Mildmay Hall in The Mount was found to be available for rent from the Co-operative Society who agreed to its use as a theatre. The members together with families and friends, converted it into a working theatre and the first production was in October 1951. In 1963/64 after a massive Fund Raising campaign, the Freehold of the building was bought (thanks to a fair selling price from the Co-op).

The basis of the present Foyer was built at that time together with other, then modern, facilities. With other alterations and extensions over the years, Productions are still staged in the same building: it now seats 97 people and includes Disabled Access .

An open-air Shakespeare production is staged every summer in the Reading Abbey Ruins. This Annual Production is a huge undertaking, managed in co-operation with RBC who generously, among other assistance, permit the use of the stunning grounds in and around the 11th Century Abbey Grounds and facilities. As with in-house productions, this Production is totally self managed."

www.progresstheatre.co.uk/