Chorley Little Theatre celebrates refurbishment

PUBLISHED: 10:29 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 18:07 20 February 2013

Chorley Little Theatre entrance..

Chorley Little Theatre entrance..

A major problem with the roof forced Chorley Little Theatre to close but led to a £100,000 refurbishment of the building. Amanda Griffiths visits this little gem

Theres never been more reason for members of Chorley Little Theatre to celebrate. Its exactly 100 years since the building opened and 55 since Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society, or CADOS, took up residence. In the last 18 months the building has also seen a 100,000 plus refurbishment and the future is looking good for the 2010-2011 season which is now well underway.

But the story could have been so different. Imagine arriving at the theatre where youre due to be on stage in a matter of hours only to be told that the theatre has major structural problems and needs to close. For at least three months. But far from being a tragedy, the drama soon turned to comedy.

Wed been saving money for years to be able to repaint the exterior and do the roof, says CADOS chairman Ian Robinson. It was looking a bit run down, some might say derelict, and needed freshening up to remind people we were still here.

Then one night in a middle of a show week one of the builders came along and said they had found a problem with one of the girders in the roof. We couldnt stay open because of the danger to the public, so that night we had to move the whole production to another venue, a club just a few streets away. The show must go on, after all! There were 12 of us carrying props and bits of set, sound and lighting equipment down the road but the production ran as it should have done.

Despite some initial fears as to whether they would be able to afford to ever re-open, volunteers and theatre members alongside members of Chorley Youth Theatre and Chorley Film Society, who also use the building, managed to raise enough money to not only fix the roof but transform the bar area; revamp the ladies dressing rooms and build a kitchen area for cast and crew for use during those long rehearsals and show weeks. The work, which came to a total cost of 110,000, took 18 months to complete, although the stage and auditorium re-opened to the public just three months after the building initially closed.

Its been a struggle, but everyone really just got on with it, says Ian. Fortunately we have a good apron on the stage so could still manage to put shows on in front of the curtain. There was only one we couldnt do, Loot. Originally we were stopped because it was on in London, then we couldnt do it because of the building work.

Somehow we managed to do Rent, the Musical which was probably our biggest production ever, with a big cast and massive scaffolding as part of the set. Actually we used the scaffolding from outside inside!

Over the last year we have also been able to put on more touring shows; people like Jimmy Cricket, Dave Spikey and Steve Royale have all performed here and Richard Herring is coming back in the new year. We had been trying for a long time to get some of these touring comedians.

With the film society also showing movies here on a cinema style screen that drops down from the rafters, and regular productions and talent show by Chorley Youth Theatre theres guaranteed to be something on at Chorley Theatre.

We aim to always have something on here for the people of the town, says Ian. I think if you have your towns name in your title thats what you should be doing.

Ian became chairman of the society last year. Hes been with CADOS since he was 14, doing the lights and says the work that has just taken place is something hes been wanting to see happen for the last 20 years. The renovation and refurbishment work however, does not detract from the theatres proud history.

The building opened on September 3rd, 1910, as the Electric Empire. It was the most sophisticated theatre in the town, showing a mix of silent films and musicals, says Ian. It became a proper theatre, The Empire and was known as the place of 3D film, people from other theatres came here to see how it should be done. It was also famous for its rock n roll films - theres a fire hydrant in the bar that they used to attach a hose to and hose the kids down when they were too wild!

The cinema closed in 1955 and was briefly a dance hall and wrestling hall until it was taken over by a man running a car showroom.

He was the one who uncovered the original Empire glass sign in the foyer, says Ian. It was all boarded up before then. He actually wanted to rip it all out and turn the building into a proper car showroom and it was at this point that CADOS stepped in.

The amateur dramatic society had been in existence since 1933, and were based in a small venue a few streets away. They must have been doing quite well because they wanted a theatre of their own and wanted to keep this place for the town. CADOS has run the building ever since, we now put on six productions a year; four plays, a musical and a panto.

And work doesnt stop there. Thanks to the building work already completed theres space to add a rehearsal room in the roof which will also be used to store props and costumes. The money to do this still has to be found but Ian is confident it will happen. When it does not only will it provide the theatre with that extra rehearsal space but it will also allow those people who enter the chance to see two more original features of the theatre - the original arches, one which would have held the cinema screen and the other the curtain, as well as that pesky girder that led to such a major refurbishment.

Latest from the Lancashire Life