The Hope Mill Theatre opened five years in Ancoats, and has quickly become a jewel in Manchester’s ever-expanding theatre scene.
It has been described as a factory of creativity and if you have been, you soon realise that the calibre of productions being housed here is second to none.
The likes of Parade, Spring Awakening, Return of the Soldier, Jerry Springer the Opera, Hair and Mame have pleased both audiences and critics, with some of these productions transferring elsewhere, including London. And news Jonathan Larson’s Rent is to be their Summer production set box office tills ringing.
The beautiful venue is now one of the most successful independent venues in the UK.
But who is behind this huge success story? Couple and business partners Joseph Houston and William Whelton both trained as performers and lived in London. They loved the Off West End theatre scene, and small producing venues who pulled out all the stops to create great shows on a micro budget.
Step forward Katy Lipson, company director and producer of Aria Entertainment who has a fondness for revivals and showcasing and new musicals. This marvelous meeting of minds has meant that Ancoats, which has become one of the hottest destinations for city living, is now a great place for audiences to experience the magic of theatre and how transformative it can be.
This has not gone unnoticed by the great and the good, and the Hope Mill has three very fine patrons: writer Russell T. Davies; West End star and recent headliner in Mame, Tracie Bennett; and Loose Woman and former Corrie star Denise Welch, who is no stranger to theatre herself, regularly treading the boards across the UK.
Joseph and William have captured the hearts of Manchester theatre goers because of their story. They packed up their stuff and chased their dream, and they are two of the least pretentious people you could ever meet, serving you behind the bar one minute, making sure the venue is clean and tidy, directing or working on moves with a cast eager to perform there and attending an awards ceremony the next.
The team they have working with them are warm and friendly and they have one thing in common, they go out of their way to give you a great experience and they are not there for the money, it is their love of the arts scene that drives them, not cash.
But right now this former mill, now a hotbed of creativity, sits in the dark because of the coronavirus and the PM’s recent statement that we should not be going to the theatre, restaurants or bars. So, Aria Entertainment had no choice but close their production of Zorro after two days – a production that they created independently.
If you purchased tickets for Aria Entertainment’s production of Zorro for any of the cancelled performances, then you can decline the refund and donate the money back to ensure that creatives get paid at this very difficult time. Email Katy Lipson here: aria-entertainment.com/contact.
The Hope Mill has recently become a charity and they have had to make the equally difficult decision to cancel their production of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
If you saw today’s heartbreaking interview with the founders on BBC Breakfast, you will have seen their drive and passion remains. But like many small businesses in Manchester, they feel helpless.
They just want to carry on providing entertainment to lift our spirits, and we are going to need that, when we come out of this.
So, if you are regular at the Hope Mill or you have been dying to visit and you want to help keep Manchester’s answer to the Menier Chocolate Factory, what can you do? You can become a member for as little as £5 per month and this will get you priority booking, discounts on food when you spend over £5, a newsletter and invites to special events, such as Q&As.
If you purchased tickets for Zorro or for any of the performances and the show was cancelled, then you can decline the refund and donate the money to ensure that creatives get paid at this very difficult time.
You can also make a one-off donation or have a wall or seat plaque. If you love theatre and you love Manchester and you can afford to help, following this link for information.