Comedian Jimmy Cricket writes about working with Chorley Little Theatre
While visiting Chorley recently, I made it my business to go and see the Little Theatre. Nestling slap bang in the middle of town in a place called Dole Lane, it’s so quaint and cute, you could see why it’s getting to be almost as famous as the Chorley Cake itself.
It opened in 1910 as the Empire Electric Theatre with a capacity of 700. The less well-off sat at the front on wooden seats, while the posh people were able to put their feet up at the back in ‘plush seats.’
It originally showed silent movies with a live pianist accompanying the action. These piano players were special in the way they interpreted the scenes, using light-hearted music when the characters were happy and dramatic notes when danger struck. What a lovely era that must have been, sitting with your friends passing round the popcorn looking up at the big screen and laughing hysterically at the comedic exploits of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
When the great singer Al Jolson came on screen and said, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’, it heralded the advent of talking pictures. Then came colour, Cinemascope, and 3D. As the movie industry went through enormous changes the Empire Electric Theatre was there to highlight them for local people.
Then in 1955 it led the way. A little while before, a movie had come out called Blackboard Jungle, about juvenile delinquency in a New York school. It caused over excited teenagers to rip up seats in the cinemas it played. A rock n’ roll song was used over the titles called Rock Around The Clock, and was sung by a band called Bill Haley and the Comets. When Bill Haley was given his own movie aptly called Rock Around The Clock, it caused bigger riots. Even more over excited teenagers turned up to rip seats, but this time they did it time to the music. It caused such a furore that councils all over the country banned it.
However the manager of the Empire managed to win the Chorley Council over by promising to connect a hose pipe to a hydrant within the theatre and if any overzealous youths over stepped the mark ... splash!
Now here’s where the story takes a sad twist. After over half a century of showing some of the best movies ever to come out of Hollywood and the UK the Empire closed its doors in 1958 and the last film shown was Disney’s classic, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
It was on the cards to become a car showroom but even as the Porches and Volvos were being polished and the salesmen were rehearsing their sales pitches at the 11th hour some super heroes moved in to save it.
Yes, folks enter Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society or Cados as it’s affectionately called. They rescued the cinema, made it into a theatre and turned its fortunes around. Since then they’ve been putting on sell out productions of tip top plays and musicals.
The movies haven’t been forgotten. Since 1990, The Chorley Empire Community Cinema has been showing all the best films on the big screen in between the live shows. To make sure the baton is passed on to the next generation, The Chorley Youth Theatre was established and they bring all their energy and vitality to several productions a year.
With a fully licensed bar and car parking facilities just across the road the 236 seater has a warmth and atmosphere all of its own. I know that from playing it myself a few years back.
It’s run by a team of enthusiastic volunteers and spearheaded by a young man whose passionate about live Theatre called Ian Robinson.
I myself will be returning there on Sunday May 19 with a new play I’ve written called No More Fiffen and Faffen. It tells the story of a comedy double act. It’s their last night in summer season in an end of pier show, but because things haven’t gone according to plan they decide to make it their last show after 36 years in showbusiness.
Tickets are £10 concessions £5, Box Office: 01257 284362 for more information visit their website: www.chorleytheatre.com