Award winning Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, presents Aspects of Love
- Credit: Archant
Interview: Living Edge magazine talks to William Whelton, Joseph Houston & Katy Lipson from Hope Mill Theatre about how and why the theatre came to exist and their next show, Aspects of Love.
Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats, Manchester, has been named Fringe Theatre of the Year by industry bible The Stage. The 120-seat theatre was opened in autumn 2015 and has enjoyed a run of critically acclaimed musicals – three of which have transferred to London. It is the result of a successful and ambitious collaboration between former actors Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, from Aria Entertainment, resident producer and Hope Mill’s co-artistic director.
Coming in July 2018 is their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Aspects of Love - which features the iconic song Love Changes Everything. It tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.
Living Edge caught up with Will, Joe & Katy to learn more about the show, and the challenges and successes of running an independent theatre in a city like Manchester!
Q) Hope Mill Theatre has made a real impact on the British theatre scene in a relatively short period of time – did you dream when you opened of the success you’ve had?
Will: ‘We could never have imagined that only two and half years later we would be where we are now. The risk involved was overwhelming, but we had ambition, energy and a lot of naivety! We joined up with Katy before we even opened the doors and she shared the same ambition. I think the success is down to the relationship between all of us- we are all very ambitious and have different strengths and are all extremely passionate about musical theatre and producing work outside of London. Hope Mill Theatre has been set up from nothing and a lot of love has gone it to something that has now become a great success and I think people love a good old fashioned success story!’
Q) There must have been some tough moments along the way – establishing a business is never easy! What kept you going in any challenging periods?
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Joe: ‘It is never easy and at times feels like it only gets harder. I think the ongoing and continued stress is always financial, as being an independent, unsubsidised producing venue means that money is always tight. But we have been inspired and re-energised by the responses to our shows and the reaction of our audiences. We could never have known that in such a short space of time we would now have such an incredible following from audiences- ultimately without them we are nothing and our shows would never happen. We still have a long way to go and every show brings with it a new audience demographic.’
Q) Why do you think the three of you work well as a trio – do you make decisions by voting? Will and Joe – you’re a married couple, do you every fall out over work?!
Katy: ‘We all have a passion for theatre which balances nicely together. As a producer I was always in need of a space to work on shows I’ve been passionate about for years and so the combination of all our skills and ambition worked out well. Ultimately we are all really good grafters and want to create the best work in the best possible way.’
Will & Joe: ‘The three of us all have different strengths which has allowed us to be able to have such a strong working relationship. We rarely disagree but if we do we are all very understanding of one another’s thoughts and we are very swift and coming to agreements. With every working relationship it’s work in progress and you constantly are met with new obstacles but as a trio we are also good friends and no matter what that comes first.
‘With regards to myself and Will’s relationship - again we have different strengths and I believe that allows us to work in harmony - however it did take us some time to find that dynamic. It would be a lie to say that we never fall out over work issues as it is such a massive part of both of our lives but again our relationship always takes priority and we are getting much better at dealing with issues quicker and not letting anything fester.’
Q) You are all clearly incredibly passionate about theatre – musicals in particular. Why do you love them so much? Any particular favourites?
Katy: ‘Music is the universal language. It’s the thing which can unite us all. For as long as I can remember it has been music which speaks to me the most. So the genre of theatre I am most passionate about has to be music based and what better than singing about your passions in a musical!’
Will & Joe: ‘We are incredibly passionate about theatre and especially musicals. All three of us choose to train in musical theatre so for a long time it has always been an industry that we have worked in - in many different capacities. When you have that recipe of a moving story, incredible music and stunning dances it really can be something spectacular and that’s why we are passionate about musicals.’
Q) Why did you pick Manchester as the home for Hope Mill? Do you feel it’s a particularly vibrant place for the arts? We often see shows starting here before going to London – as have some of your previous productions?
Joe: ‘We moved back to Manchester from London as Will is from Cheshire, so when London became too expensive to live we decided it was best to move up north to start a new life. It was then we realised that Manchester was such an exciting city for the arts and that it needed more smaller theatre venues - such as there are in London. Unlike London, Manchester’s arts scene feels very fresh, accessible and almost new.
Will: ‘I think there is a real shift in views on where the exciting new work is happening and Manchester seems to be the talked about city for this. London will always have a bigger, more thriving theatre scene as it’s the home for the commercial sector of theatre but I believe people are now realising that we have to support work in the regions to allow for more opportunities. The beauty of staging shows in the north is that you can try and test it before taking it on. Sometimes it can feel as though there is no life after London for shows unless it gets picked up by the West End, but with our model there is always room for work to move on.’
Q) Your next production, Aspects of Love, was written by one of the most influential people in musical theatre history – does that put any extra pressure on your? It’s an incredible honour being entrusted with a show like Aspects of Love, isn’t it?
Will: ‘Since opening Hope Mill we’ve wanted to produce an ALW musical - he really is a legend of British musicals so it’s an honour to be producing Aspects. We feel that on a smaller intimate scale it will bring a whole new life to the show. It really is one of his best scores and we can’t wait to share it with our audiences. But yes you do feel a pressure to do justice to all of these shows- but we are very lucky to have incredible creative teams that we trust.’
Katy: ‘Aspects has always had a special place in my heart as I was growing up; it was a show my family listened to again and again and we always sang the songs around the piano. I love the fact it is one of Lloyd Webber’s lesser known works too. After working at The Other Palace Theatre, which he recently acquired, I really felt passionate about introducing his work in a new way to our audiences and am really looking forward to welcoming Andrew, Don Black and Charles Hart to the venue.’
Q) If you could produce any show at Hope Mill in the future, what would it be and why?
Joe: ‘I guess we would have to say all of the exciting shows we have lined up for next year- which haven’t been announced yet! Also we want Hope Mill to become the home for new musicals and we are starting to test that model with our audiences. We want to nurture talent and hopefully find the next Hamilton or Come From Away!’
Katy: ‘It would always be The Light In The Piazza because it is one of the most beautiful, romantic scores written in the last few years and I am totally in love with it.’
Aspects of Love runs at Hope Mill Theatre from 5 – 9 August. For more information and to book tickets visit www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk