Blog: Joseph Houston

The artistic director of Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre on leading the way to London

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I had an interesting media interview last week. It was about the news that our musical theatre production Yank! was transferring to London for an off-West End run. The person interviewing me didn’t seem to understand that a show transferring from Manchester to London is a good thing.

Of course, far from meaning Manchester is missing out, it is absolutely fantastic news – not just for Hope Mill and Ancoats but for Manchester and the north. It’s no longer the case that productions such as Yank! are premiering in London before audiences in the regions get to see them – it’s us leading the way. I am biased, of course, but I think our productions are a brilliant advertisement for Manchester and for the wider north of England.

In our own small way, by opening a theatre in an old cotton mill in Ancoats specialising in musical theatre productions we were trying to innovate and bring something new and untried to Manchester. It’s only been a year since I opened Hope Mill with my fiancé Will, but the way we’ve been welcomed into the city’s theatre community and the encouragement and support we’ve received has been fantastic. That’s why we’re thrilled now to be part of the Greater Manchester Moot initiative, exploring ways theatres across the region can collaborate and enjoy even more of the success of the kind we’ve had through the London transfers of Yank!, as well as Hair, which also moves to the off-West End later in the year. There’s no doubt in my mind the theatre community is stronger when we combine forces and work together rather than compete, and that together we can really become a force to be reckoned with nationally.

I’m also sure that whatever success we have as a theatre – whether individually or in collaboration with other theatres across Greater Manchester or even the wider region – we won’t lose our community roots. That’s become even more important to us after the devastating attack at the Manchester Arena. Being part of the Ancoats and Manchester community, caring about the people here and being aware of the issues in the community are part of what makes us different and not just a faceless venue. So we’re keen to support local issues.

For Herding Cats, which is running at Hope Mill this month, there is a special free of charge community production for charities and community groups helping tackle loneliness across Greater Manchester. Homelessness is a huge problem at the moment for Greater Manchester and so we’re pleased that the new Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham says he’s going to do something about it. We had collections for the Albert Kennedy Trust, which helps young, homeless LGBT people at our productions of Yank! and we’ll be doing the same when it moves to London. Which of course won’t be a bad thing.
Herding Cats is at Hope Mill Theatre until 3 June

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