Glenn Meads caught up with Joseph and William from Hope Mill Theatre
They say that home is heart is, and when Joseph Houston and William Whelton moved to Manchester to set up the Hope Mill Theatre, in 2015 - the city certainly welcomed them with open arms. Why? Because they had a vision to bring Off West End theatre to Manchester, of the same calibre that you would see in London, in an intimate setting, which was affordable. What's not to like? They then joined forces with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, and these mighty three have seen their productions of Hair, Pippin and Yank! transfer to London.
Recently featured in the Stage 100 list for 2017, we caught up with Joseph and William to look back at their amazing success, and to see what the year has in store for the Hope Mill Theatre.
How does it feel feature in the Stage 100?
It is such an incredible honour to have made the Stage 100 List for 2017. Having only ended our second full year at Hope Mill it means so much to us to have all of our hard work and ambition recognised. This list is the Theatre Industries definitive list of the current “movers and shakers” throughout the industry and it is no easy task to secure a place alongside some of theatres most iconic and influential people.
You have had amazing success in Manchester. Did you expect it to be so welcoming here?
We have been completely embraced by the city of Manchester and its theatre community – which has been extremely heartening as opening and running your own theatre is no easy task and many times we think how things could have gone very differently for us. There was such a thriving theatrical landscape when we opened Hope Mill Theatre in late 2015 and I feel we just came at the right time when the city was crying out for a new space which is unique and specific in its programming. We definitely expected Manchester to be a welcoming city as it comes hand in hand with being “up north!” – and it certainly has been. It is still very hard to operate a fully independent/ non-funded arts space and there have been times we have struggled to maintain. We rely solely on our audiences and supporters – they are what keep Hope Mill Theatre open and being able to produce highly acclaimed productions, provide a platform for emerging talent and companies and allow us to collect awards for our achievements – and we do not take that for granted. Manchester is our home and we wouldn’t change it for the world!
What has been your favourite moment so far?
There have been so many incredible moments since opening and far too many to mention. Winning a special achievement award at the Manchester Theatre Award 's having only been open a year was astonishing. Also being at the opening night of our London transfers and seeing a whole new city embrace our productions is so special. However, the highlight of it all has to be when we celebrated getting married at Hope Mill Theatre. To be able to host such a special day in a place that means so much to us both was the best feeling ever.
Can you tell us a little about The Toyboy Diaries. What's it about?
ToyBoy Diaries is unlike any show that we have thus far staged at Hope Mill Theatre. It’s a small cast of only 5 and follows the story of Lilly, who after a divorce and finding herself older but still in the prime of life has a string of young men who all come in to her life. She decides to keep a diary of these adventures and through this we get to follow her relationships, trials of mid-life dating, friendship and fun! This is very ambitious for us as it is a world premiere of a new British musical – based on a best-selling novel. We feel we have to start being more daring in our programming and using the venue to mount premieres and new musicals, so hopefully the first of many!
What other highlights are in the New Season?
I would say our biggest highlight of the season is going to be Spring Awakening the musical. This is an incredible Tony Award winning smash that is being totally personalised for its Manchester revival. We have the incredible Luke Sheppard directing and an exciting team in place – I think this is going to be one of the biggest theatrical highlights of the industry calendar! As well as in house musicals we have a very fresh and diverse line up of plays from some of the Norths most exciting and newest companies. We host D’Eon a new historical play based on the world’s first known transgender starring ex corrie star Dean Fagan (Tues 13th to Sat 17th Feb). We also have Aboo Theatre with Replacement Child a play about parenthood and dealing with loss and this also has ex-corrie stars Rupert Hill and Julia Haworth (Tues 20th to Fri 23rd). Finally, we host our longest running play – the northern premiere of Philip Ridley’s Vincent River – a heart breaking play about a mother dealing with the loss of his son and his hidden sexuality (27th Feb to 24th March).
What does the future hold for Hope Mill?
We are pretty much fully programmed for the rest of 2018 with a load of exciting new plays and musicals. We will be producing a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webbers classic Aspects of Love in July, as well as two other musicals to be revealed. We want Hope Mill Theatre to be a permanent fixture in this amazing City – and would love for it to be enjoyed for many years to come and continue to produce high quality work with bright futures. There are always obstacles in the way when you are based in the city such as fear of development, lack of funding and being in a leased property. Our dream would be to acquire the Hope Mill Theatre space to be able to modify and develop it. We also would love to branch out and possibly introduce a Musical Theatre Academy for aspiring Northern performers as we are passionate about nurturing home grown talent, especially in the area of Musical theatre
If someone reading this has not visited before, why should they come?
If audiences are looking to explore a theatrical experience which is utterly unique and very Mancunian in its surroundings then Hope Mill Theatre is the place for you. We have a varied programme to serve all audiences and offer top quality, critically acclaimed productions in a small intimate space. We have a welcoming bar space offering a cosy pre show experience. You may also get to see shows in their infancy before they go on to the bright lights of London or beyond!
The Toyboy Diaries runs at the Hope Mill Theatre from 18 January - 12 February. To book and for details of the 2018 season, click here