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Bahrain’s oldest theatre club celebrated its 40th anniversary last week with an evening filled with sketches, impromptu pantomimes and awards for its members at the British Club, writes Naman Arora.
Rosemary Lee, who has been doing makeup for the club for the last 27 years, said: “The club started as an after-dinner party activity. Back when there was very little do in Bahrain beyond work, what we did in the evenings was drama! And two dramatic societies came to be – The Manama Players Club and the Bahrain Theatre group.”
The Manama Theatre Club was formed in 1979 amalgamating the Manama Players Club and the Bahrain Theatre Group. The club’s first performance was Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare in 1979 and has since performed over 100 shows in its illustrious history, including plays, murder mystery dinners, pantomimes, musicals, farces, improvised shows and workshops.
Brig Rookes, a former member who joined the club during the 1980s, added: “The Manama Players and the Bahrain Theatre Group were theoretically completely separate organisations, but in reality most people who were active in one of the clubs were also active in the other, with the exception of the committee members of each club, who thought of their club as being far superior to the other.
“The Bahrain Theatre Club had originally been the British forces garrison theatre group, in the days when Bahrain was a British protectorate. They traditionally put on farces, musicals and pantos. The other club, linked to the British Council, was far more serious, and put on dramas, thrillers and literary stuff. Both clubs used the British Council stage, a very small lecture theatre at the old British Council site at the British Embassy. There were 97 seats in a steeply raked auditorium. There were no dressing rooms, so the cast had to dress and do their make-up in the British Council office. The stage was very small and there was a grand piano on stage which could not be moved, so every set had to be built so as to disguise the piano.”
Every performance put on by the club has a chronicle of stories behind it. According to Brig, when performing Table Manners in 1986 they found that it is very difficult to eat toast and speak at the same time. After trying various substitutes and deciding on freshly made toast, the props team brought in a toaster and made toast in the wings for each performance. Many later commented on how realistic the food was; they could swear that they could actually smell toast being made.
At the end of the 90s, the British Club built a stage in the Windsor Room, and many of MTC’s subsequent shows were put on there, including Little Shop of Horrors (2001), Bedroom Farce (2002), Wait Until Dark (2002) and The Real Inspector Hound (2005).
In the MTC pantomime Cinderella in 2004, when the Ultra Violet transformation scene ended with Cinderella getting into her magic coach pulled by Monty the Awali Shetland pony, an awestruck little voice was heard from the front of the auditorium saying: “It’s a real horse!” That was performed in the Awali theatre as a joint production with the Awali ARTS.
In 2011, after a legislative change requiring informal societies like the MTC to be formally linked to an expat club, the MTC came to be under the umbrella of the British Club, where it has since put on its shows and events.
The club started an improv segment in 2015 with a gig at Cafe Amsterdam. Khaled Aldossary, who hosts Radio Bahrain’s The Dose, was one of the key drivers behind the improvisation shows.
In the past year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary, the club has put on the popular Bahrain Fringe Festival, Piaf, Beauty Queen of Leenane and Beauty and the Beast, in addition to a variety of workshops and improv shows.
The anniversary celebratory evening brought together members, as golden spoons were given out to recognise the good, not-so-good and great moments in the club’s past year of performances.
Hannah Turner, current chair of the MTC, said: “Today, in the MTC, we have global nationalities, performers aged eight to 80 plus and activities include car treasure hunts, murder mysteries, quizzes, theatre, improv and technical workshops.
In terms of people participating it has become very fashionable in the last couple of years and we are gaining a much younger crowd. We use ticket income to pay for essentials and donate a percentage of profits to charity and support the beating heart of drama in the local community. We really are a family and a fun community to be a part of!”