Ian carrying out his big plans for the little theatre

Ian Robinson at Chorley Little Theatre
Ian Robinson at Chorley Little Theatre

“It was 20 years of pent-up ideas that came flowing out.” It is officially five years since Ian Robinson was appointed as chairman of Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (CADOS)and he has certainly made his mark.

He had already been involved with Chorley Little Theatre for 20 years when he took over from the previous chairman, Barry Callendar.

And it came at a crucial time for the theatre, as urgent work was needed to repair the roof.

Ian, 39, said: “We had saved up lots of money to paint the outside because it really needed doing.

“On the second day the guys were up there, they found the roof was rotting and we had to close.

“At some point the roof was going to fall completely down.”

Ian and the other volunteers at CADOS got to work on a plan, not only for fixing the roof, but for improving the theatre as a whole.

He said: “Suddenly we had to find the money to fix the building problems, but also I felt we had to start putting on a lot more stuff to justify ourselves to the town and show people what they would miss.

“Prior to 2009, we put plays on and had a few bookings but I wanted to show how essential we were to Chorley people.

“We put on a lot more shows which brought in more funding, because we don’t get any support.

“Everything we do here is paid for through ticket sales and bar sales.”

A new chairman and a new roof meant it was the start of a new era for the theatre. And being at the helm, after 20 years of volunteering, allowed Ian to finally turn all his ideas into reality.

He first got involved with the theatre in 1989, when he was just 15 and still a pupil at St Michael’s High School.

He said: “I liked theatre and just wanted to be involved in putting shows on and the theatre experience.

“Someone knew me and knew I wanted to do that and brought me here.

“That was it.”

Ian has been at the theatre ever since, taking on all kinds of roles since his early tasks of set painting and lighting.

“Since then I have been involved in every aspect of it,” he said.

“I haven’t acted – I leave to that other people – but I have been involved in the film society and CADOS.”

But it is the past five years, since becoming chairman, when he has really been able to make a difference.

Ian said: “The first thing I did was put comedians on and comedy has been very successful here.

“Chorley people like a good laugh.”

It was not an easy start though, as Ian initially struggled to attract the big names to his small venue.

He said: “I started off asking people to come here and they would never come back to me.

“We had a few local acts, like Dave Spikey and Steve Royle.

“We got the breakthrough from Richard Herring and word got around.

“We treat them very nicely and make them feel welcome.

“It helps that we are comedy fans here and know what we’re talking about.

“It’s not just another job here, we usually want to see a show ourselves.”

Since then, a host of big names have provided the laughs at the theatre.

They have included Chris Addison, Russell Howard and Al Murray.

Jenny Eclair returned at the weekend for her fifth show and John Bishop will perform for five nights from Monday.

While the introduction of comedians has proved to be a hit, the theatre still has its plays too.

CADOS bought the building in 1960 for £2,000, stopping plans to turn it into a car showroom, and has been based there ever since.

Ian, of Letchworth Drive, Chorley, said: “We do at least six plays a year through CADOS.

“Once one play finishes, another one starts five or six weeks later, which is quite a quick turnaround especially for amateurs.

“We have a crack team of set builders who turn it around.”

Chorley Youth Theatre also put on two productions each year and they are currently preparing for The Little Mermaid in July.

Another popular attraction is Chorley Empire Film Society, which has been based at the theatre since 1990 and shows around 30 films a year.

Ian said: “In the last five or six years, we have got the big screen installed, the surround sound installed and high definition digital projection.

“We have really brought up the cinema experience.”

Ian is keen to stress that watching a film at the theatre is no different to going anywhere else.

He said: “We are just like the cinemas in Bolton or Preston.

“We might not have the very latest films, but they are pretty up-to-date.

“It does my head in when people say they want a cinema in Chorley because we do have one.

“We are showing as many films as we can. This year we will have more films than ever before.”

The surroundings have also improved, with all of the rooms being decorated in the building, which was originally opened in 1910 as a cinema.

Ian said: “In the last few years we have introduced electronic ticketing and online booking. We have a bigger bar, rehearsal space and more room backstage.

“The roof was a blessing in disguise really.”

The changes have all contributed to helping to turn the theatre into a popular attraction.

Ian said: “In the last few years, the audiences here have shot up and hopefully people would miss us.

“I think last year we had about 18,000 people through the door which is massive.

“We had the nomination for the best theatre venue from Visit Lancashire and that was great.

“We are winning awards for local am dram stuff.

“It all seems to be heading in the right direction.”

The success of the theatre is particular impressive given that it is run by volunteers.

As chairman, even Ian is a volunteer and has to find the time to fit it in alongside his work as a freelance designer and spending time with his girlfriend.

He said: “It is difficult to fit life in but most of the time it’s fine. I try to find a balance.”

And Ian’s diary is already filling up for the next few years.

He said: “We are already planning our 2015-16 season of plays.

“It’s sort of scary to have a fair idea of where I’m going to be on June 20, 2016.”

CADOS are always looking for volunteers to boost the team at the theatre.

Anyone over the age of 16 can get involved in a variety of ways, from working behind the bar or in the box office to building sets.

And although the theatre has already improved in many ways, there are more plans in the pipeline.

Ian said: “We really want to improve the toilets and improve the seating and the auditorium.

“We have done a lot of stuff backstage to keep the building together, but now we want to do things that the audience will see and appreciate.

“The aim of the next year is to make the money and try to do that. We are looking at funding options and are in early talks with the Arts Council.”

The theatre seems to be in safe hands, but Ian admits he does not now how long he will continue as chairman.

“I’m turning 40 in November and I can’t see myself doing much after that, but it is still quite young and I’m still quite into it,” he said.

“I’m still enthused and can’t really let go.”