Still going strong – and doing the sort of shows no-one else will attempt
UNLESS you've been, it's unlikely you will know where the Lace Market Theatre is.
"I spoke to one lady who said she had lived in the Lace Market for 15 years and there was definitely no theatre," laughs Gill Scott, 68 a retired teacher from Carlton who is the current stage manager.
It's been stood at the end of Halifax Place, opposite the entrance to the Fletcher Gate car park, for the past 40 years.
The history of the pale blue building dates back to 1760, when it was built as a Sectarian Chapel. It was later a schoolhouse where Salvation Army founder William Booth was once a pupil.
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In 1970, a group from the Nottingham Theatre Club raised £40,000 to transform what was a rundown warehouse for storing paint into a 118 seat theatre, completed two years later.
The first production was Julius Caesar and among the cast was Marcus Wakeley.
"I played Cassius," says the retired legal professional from Mapperley.
"I felt embarrassed when they said 'John Cassius had a lean and hungry look'."
It prompts a guffaw from a few of the theatre members sat in the upstairs bar, where short plays are performed in the round.
"Sometimes you have to use your imagination," grins Lorna McCullough, 76, from Ruddington, who joined a year later.
"I'm drama mad and I heard it was a good place," she says.
"My friends brought me along to an audition for Snow Queen and I got two parts; as a raven and a gypsy. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
Lorna now believes she's "too old" to appear in productions so concentrates her efforts off-stage.
"I've been doing a lot of admin work," she says.
Marcus, who says he is "a little younger than Lorna," believes you can never be too old to go on stage at the Lace Market Theatre.
Relents Lorna: "Well, you can't be too old but I can't stand or walk at the moment because I've got a bad leg. I keep hoping we'll do plays with wheelchair parts."
Max Bromley, 63, a retired teacher from Mapperley, was also at the opening of the theatre and reveals that it's in his blood.
"My parents actually met when the theatre was at the Bluecoat School in 1946," he says, hinting at its long history in Nottingham.
It was in 1926 that the Nottingham Philodramatic Society converted a garage in Alfred Street to perform their plays.
12 years later they moved into a former factory next to the Bluecoat School.
In 1948 the society merged with the Playgoers Club and became the Nottingham Theatre Club, moving three year's later to a disused warehouse in Hutchinson Street, St Ann's.
By 1970, the whole St Ann's area was being cleared and so they moved to its current home. Says Max: "When I was at school I did a lot of technical stuff at the theatre in Hutchinson Street. My mum was running the youth theatre and I thought 'well, I can't join that' so instead I joined the youth theatre at the Arts Theatre.
"It was where I did a play with Su Pollard and she was a very talented actress."
The Lace Market Theatre is a charitable trust which is run by volunteers. There are around 300 members who pay a subscription but only around 100 of those are actively involved in the 14 productions they put on each year.
Says Gill: "Our funding comes from membership, the bar and our wardrobe hire. We don't get grants of any kind."
They pride themselves on challenging audiences and themselves.
Says Max: "One of our primary functions has always been to do the sort of shows that no-one in Nottingham is even going to attempt.
"We did Martin Sherman's Bent, which has never been done before in Nottingham. And we did Ashes, which is a very savage play about IVF."
Insists Lorna: "We do get people coming from a long way to see the plays."
Its festive offering, which finishes tonight, is Terry Pratchetts' Wyrd Sisters.
"We don't do pantomimes," says Max.
"We can't do shows in the afternoon so we do light-hearted Christmas shows with more of an appeal to adults," says Gill.
"In the past we've had success with The Importance of Being Earnest, Season's Greetings and A Christmas Carol."
Adds Marcus: "Besides, Nottingham is very short of theatre in December."
Among next year's productions are Arabian Nights, On Golden Pond, The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate.
There is a youth theatre, for under 18s, which has 45 members but one of their latest recruits is 76-year-old Shirley Hughes from Clifton.
"I came here once with my husband and when he died I wanted to find something that I could do," she says.
"I thought of this place because it had been so friendly."
Although you won't find her on stage.
"I'll do anything but that," she laughs.
"I've asked a few of them why they do it, because they put in a lot of work, the play runs for a week and then it's done. They say that they like to pretend to be other people."
Not all of them have aspired to be famous actors. It's simply a love of theatre that motivates them to give up so much of their free time.
"Most of us wish we'd been trained when we were younger," says Lorna.
"This is the nearest we are going to get to professional work because the standard is very high."
Adds Max: "90 per cent of Equity members aren't in work. It's a very difficult profession. I trained as a drama teacher because I wanted to be able to afford somewhere to live."
One of its success stories is West End and Broadway musicals regular Alex Hanson, while Lewis Brookbanks could be another.
"I've always been interested in performing," says the 17-year-old from Eastwood, a drama student at NCN.
"As I've got older it's become more of a passion and I hope that it will become a career," he adds, revealing that he has an upcoming audition with a drama school in London.
The theatre has celebrity patrons in husband and wife team Timothy West and Prunella Scales.
"She has done a workshop here and helped with fundraising and Timothy West called in about a year ago to see how we were getting on," says Gill.
"Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes have agreed to become patrons recently. There is a link to them with one of our members and we just asked!"
Added to that, Sir Ian McKellen is due a visit.
"We are part of the Little Theatre Guild and he's the president," says Gill.
"He plans to get around all the theatres, although he's been busy with The Hobbit of late."
For more about the theatre call (0115) 950 7201 or go to www.lacemarkettheatre.co.uk.