Celebrated playwright inspired theatre
Last updated at 11:29, Friday, 14 September 2012
WITH the Old Laundry Theatre celebrating its 20th anniversary season this year, RACHEL HERMOLLE talks to its founders about the venue’s past and their plans for the future
OVER the past 20 years, the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness has welcomed a host of famous names from Alan Carr and Jenny Eclair to Victoria Wood and Sue Perkins.
And along with an impressive star-studded list of trustees, husband and wife Roger Glossop and Charlotte Scott name one of the country’s most famous playwrights as the inspiration behind the theatre’s creation.
Roger explains: “We wouldn't be where we are now without Alan Ayckbourn’s support, he gave us the confidence to open the theatre and its success is down to him.”
In 1991 Roger, a set designer, and Charlotte, a former stage manager, bought a redundant Edwardian Laundry, with the intention of designing and building The World Of Beatrix Potter.
But the award-winning attraction left plenty of space empty and the couple soon realised it could provide a perfect fit for a theatre.
Roger said: “The Beatrix Potter exhibition wasn't big enough to fill the whole building, and one day I suddenly had an epiphany. I had been working with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough and noticed that the space we had left would make a similarly perfect theatre in the round.
“I phoned Alan to ask if he would be willing to bring some of his shows if we opened a theatre and he joked, ‘why not? we will all be dead soon’, so we went ahead with the project and in a matter of months the Old Laundry Theatre was open.”
The pair’s close working relationship continues to this day, with Sir Alan having stuck to his word and sent a play to be performed almost every year since.
Charlotte explains: “Alan helps the seasons to pulse along, he has a very big fan base and there is always a great buzz around his shows.
“He has written 78 plays now, and we are very lucky he has kept his promise and sent a new one almost every season.”
To celebrate the theatre’s 20th anniversary, this year the flagship show will be the Old Laundry’s production of Cumbria's own award-winning musical, The Hired Man, written by Melvyn Bragg with music by Howard Goodall.
Set in Cumbria in the opening decades of the 20th century, the eight-strong cast tell the moving story of a young married couple, their struggle to carve a living from the land and the hardship of working in the coal-mines as the gathering storm of war in Europe threatens their community.
Roger designed the first production of the musical in Southampton in 1984 and will be doing the same at the Old Laundry.
Charlotte says: “We both love The Hired Man. It is a great musical which has great resonance and as Roger designed the first production back in 1984, we feel like we have come full circle. It has been a real challenge but we think it is a perfect way to celebrate our 20th anniversary.”
Other highlights include a one-woman Dickens performance by acclaimed English actress Miriam Margolyes, Sir Alan’s newest drama, Surprises, along with performances from LAMDA, Eddi Reader and Music in the Round.
The season runs annually from September to November, subsidised largely by ticket sales and the success of The World of Beatrix Potter. Roger said: “The small amount of public funding and grant aid that we receive is nowhere near enough to run the theatre.
“We rely largely on The World Of Beatrix Potter to keep the theatre going.
“Someone once said to me, ‘if you lose money every year and don't make any profits, why do you do it?’ And my answer to him was ‘because we have a passion for it’.
“Theatres are closing down everywhere at the moment so we count ourselves lucky to be in the privileged position of running a theatre.”
The couple also attribute their success to the unwavering support of many of their well-known friends.
Charlotte explains: “We are lucky to have many fantastic trustees such as Victoria Wood, Griff Rhys Jones, Alan Rickman and, of course, Alan Ayckbourn.
“Victoria Wood has supported the theatre for many years and has held many benefits to help raise our profile.
“This season Miriam Margolyes has volunteered to host a benefit show and Howard Goodall has already been tweeting about how excited he is to play here this month.
“Our links with The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art have also supplied us with the creme de la creme of up and coming talent.
“We have had lots of great support.”
Despite the success of the Old Laundry Theatre and the couple’s background in performing arts, neither Charlotte or Roger had ever envisaged they would one day be running their own theatre.
Charlotte said: “We definitely didn't set out to run a theatre, it just happened.
“It was almost fate the way the empty space was a perfect fit for a 270-seat theatre in the round.
“And we also didn't realise how perfect the acoustics would be in the building until the first musicians took to the stage. Everything has just fallen into place, it’s like the theatre found us.
“Looking back now, we both say that we wouldn't dare do it again. We were naive and just flew in and went for it.
“The most poignant memory for me over the past 20 years has to be the opening night. The paint was still wet and as guests were entering the theatre I noticed the decorators leaving up the hill with paint pouring out the back of the truck.
“From deciding to build the theatre to opening was only a few months. It was very rushed.”
With a host of new projects in the pipeline, Charlotte explains that she is often too busy thinking about the future to reminisce about the past.
She said: “It is great to be celebrating our 20th anniversary but instead of looking back over the past 20 years we are keen to look forward.
“We are hoping to dedicate more time to running our own productions and employ a few more staff as we only have one dedicated theatre staff member at the moment.
“Our son has just graduated from university where he studied music production so he is helping out this season for the first time.
“He keeps saying that the theatre would make a fabulous music venue, so if he gets his own way, that could be our next big project.”
First published at 16:38, Friday, 07 September 2012
Published by http://www.nwemail.co.uk
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