Riding Mill Drama Club will celebrate its 70th anniversary in May and will begin marking the occasion, this spring, with a performance of John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, of the same name, The 39 Steps.

The amateur theatre group will tread the boards of Riding Mill Parish Hall, with Patrick Barlow’s 2005 adaptation of the well-known play, from March 25-28 at 7.30pm.

Whilst keeping faith to much of Hitchcock’s original script, Barlow parodies the film; adding a generous dose of spoof, satire and general mayhem.

Originally intended for the stage with a cast of four, the club’s production will have a considerably larger cast, making use of its members’ varied talents.

Speaking about the rehearsals, chairman Mike Smith, said: “We are having enormous fun as we try to recreate this spell-binding thriller with its chase on the Flying Scotsman, the escape on the Forth Bridge, a bi-plane crash on stage and the finale at the London Palladium.”

The production comes on the back of successful performances of Ladies’ Day by Amanda Whittington, which saw seasoned performer, Neville Furness, honoured in the interval with his National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) medal for 50 years’ service as a member of the club.

The club has also enjoyed success in local competitions, including the Tynedale Drama Festival, and has previously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, with re-enactments of Christopher Morgan’s Going Underground and Trojan Women by Euripides.

The club was formed on May 5, 1950, with a performance of three-act play, Ladies in Retirement, to view for one night only – though it was later said it was regrettable the cast had not had the courage to risk more than one performance, as it had been such a roaring success.

Then, the club was proud owner of one floodlight, a number of switches and had roughly 20 members.

And oh how things have changed.

The club now has a membership of more than 50, with members of varying ages and abilities, as well as a number of backstage opportunities in set design, sound and costume available.

The group performs together bi-annually, with productions usually in March and November, for three to four nights, but host other social events throughout the year, including acting workshops and play readings.

And it has a very varied repertoire, ranging from Shakespeare to Ayckbourn via Sheridan, owing to the fact it takes audience submissions.

Whatever it turns its hand to, the club is always able to deliver the high standards audience-goers have come to associate it with.

It is regarded as one of the best amateur dramatic clubs in the area.

To commemorate the club’s birthday, theatre visits and a celebratory dinner are planned, where members past and present will be able to meet and reminisce.

The group will also take to the stage again in November, with Twelfth Night, directed by Chris Heckels. Anyone who saw her production of the Mystery Plays will know they will be in for an entertaining evening.

Anne Lawrence, club president, is one of the longest serving club members, having joined in 1968.

She has taken to the stage in a number of roles – from God, to a prisoner who has run over her husband and rolled her own cigarettes.

She said of the club’s anniversary: “To quote from the 1951 annual general meeting – keen enthusiasm and good team spirit has existed among the members during the year, which has contributed greatly to a very happy associations and augers well for the future.

She added: “That same spirit is still very much alive and long may it continue.”

Also toasting the club’s success will be Carrie and Colin Craig-Gilby, who have been members for eight years, and occupy the roles of website manager and village trust representative, respectively.

Callie said of her participation: “I first went along with trepidation, but I walked into a marvellous welcome.

She added: “Work was beginning to take over and this grounded me. I wasn’t actually aware of how successful the club was, I just totally loved it.

On the club dynamic, she said: “There is no ego. We all just muck in, from setting up to dismantling the set – and the mugs of tea in between.

Colin, responsible for developing the club’s online presence, took the opportunity to reminisce on the club’s humble beginnings, as the group prepared to celebrate its milestone birthday.

He said: “Set planning was all done in a little shed, before a brick garage was built.”

For more information and tickets, contact Anne Lawrence on (01434) 682351 or visit www.ridingmilldramaclub.com