The beating heart of a tiny powerhouse theatre - meet Chorley Little Theatre's Ian Robinson.

Chorley Little Theatre, due to be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020
Chorley Little Theatre, due to be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020
Share this article

Chorley Little Theatre’s Ian Robinson has spent 30 years backstage making the magic happen.

It's a love affair that defines his life but no doubt that Ian's no luvvie.

Ian Robinson of Chorley Little Theatre, due to be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020

Ian Robinson of Chorley Little Theatre, due to be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020

He may provide the backbone of Chorley’s Little Theatre but you won’t catch him performing on stage and he admits he only joined in the first time because his mum volunteered him - and it provided a great social life.

“From a certain age the brilliant thing about the theatre was I could stagger home drunk from it,” says Ian.

“When I was a teenager you’d start the night off and then end the night there.

“That’s tailed off now, not so much drunkenness!

Ian Robinson of Chorley Little Theatre, which will now be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020

Ian Robinson of Chorley Little Theatre, which will now be renamed Chorley Theatre from 2020

“We are all very sober and serious these days.”

In reality, Chorley Little Theatre, also a cinema, is a tiny, low-key, powerhouse in a town that possibly doesn’t know what riches it offers.

Home to CADOS, Chorley Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society and Chorley Youth Theatre, the small, white-painted, and perfectly formed venue on Dole Lane also attracts huge names.

John Bishop did nine nights and famous faces including Jason Manford, Matt Richardson, Dave Spikey, Russell Kane and recently Zoe Lyons have trodden the boards there among others.

Zoe even starred at the 2018 recent Chorley Christmas lights switch-on, which happily coincided with the night of her gig.

And though he probably won’t admit it, none of this would have happened without Ian’s dedication.

He says his path to theatre wasn’t an obvious one.

MORE: Theatre and comedy news HERE

“My grandad used to be a performer in Morecambe.” he says.

“He used to be in a band and my grandma was a projectionist at the silent cinema.

“My dad used to be in a band with my grandad and ran Morecambe Marine land in the 60s and then he became an accountant.

“I grew up in Kirkham, came to Chorley to the theatre and been there 30 years.

“I was never a performer, I’m more backstage.

“I like when audiences come in and enjoy themselves. I like a full house and happy audiences.

“I’m not into being exposed and being on stage, backstage is where I’m happy.”

MORE: Chorley Little Theatre reveals name change HERE

Instead Ian’s passion for theatre, or more specifically, Chorley Little Theatre, began as a youngster - when he was volunteered by his mum.

“I used to go and watch panto - I distinctly remember going to Manchester - seeing their flash stuff there and being impressed by that. And I’ve always always been into films.

“But I can’t particularly think of one little spark.

“But what actually happened is my mum knew somebody who asked me to come along and I’m an artist, well I can draw a bit and and my day job is designer - and I was asked to go along and do some set painting and then I progressed to lighting

“Back in the day you used to put a light up and then have a comic perform for 40 minutes before it was the interval.

“These days it’s a lot more complicated.

“A lot more buttons, a lot more up and down.

"Plays are a lot more bitty. A lot more scenes.

“Before it was lights up, lights down and job done.”

He admits it can be tough to find backstage volunteers, as it involves a lot of commitment.

“With this year’s panto there are 11 performances,” he explains.

“We are always looking for backstage crew, finding someone to do every performance is tricky.

“If you are backstage you have to get used to performing in the dark and moving things on and off and walking with chairs and not hitting people. It’s all good fun.”

He is inordinately proud of what Chorley Little Theatre offers and the town itself.

“Chorley is a great town, I’ve lived here for most of my life, and there is nothing like us here.

“We have this facility and if we ended people would carry on with their day-to-day lives, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.

“We try to bring to Chorley town what isn’t already here.

“This is what keep us, certainly me, going,

“In the last ten years we’ve brought all these famous comedians, we brought so many films - we have the National Theatre Live.

“Plays are getting better audiences than ever before, it just gets better and better.”

But he admits the phrase ‘hidden gem’ is made for the Little Theatre.

A secret ballot held this month decided the 109-year-old insitution will simply be renamed 'Chorley Theatre' from 2020.

The winning option gained 45 per cent of the vote, with Chorley Little Theatre gaining just 15 per cent. A third option of Chorley Empire Theatre had 40 per cent of the vote.

And the reasons for the viote are clear - even if they name change is controversial.

“It’s been there since 1910 and we still have people coming in who who walk through the doors, have lived in Chorley all their lives, and have never been before.

“We always know a new person as they ask where the toilets are.

“We’re arranged slightly differently from most theatres!

“I met someone who worked in one of the banks on Market Street, parked outside the theatre every day, and never realised it was there.

“And somebody else I bumped into thought we were just local people having a mess around and was quite surprised when I told who was on that night - Russell Kane - who he knew off the telly,” he laughs.

But there is no doubt of the success of the theatre - this year’s panto Beauty and the Beast - sold out quickly and they are seeing larger audiences than ever before.

“We have high standards and are very professional - people just think it’s a load of local people mucking around. It’s far from that.”

“The biggest name we’ve had is John Bishop. The big names like it here.”

But the theatre is entirely reliant on volunteers.

“When you have a show like the panto , 50 people are involved - from actors, technical staff, maintenance, bar staff.

“We have a youth theatre - it’s completely full at the moment - but we encourage them to run themselves.

“Trouble is they are so brilliant go off and we lose them into the industry.

“One young girl is now assistant directing plays at the National Theatre. Another is at Disney, another at Star Wars. Our most famous ex-member is Jodie Prenger – and of course Steve Pemberton from League of Gentleman – did a number of shows with us during the 1980s.”

The theatre is ambitious - every penny made is ploughed back in.

Now Chorley Council has bought the former Hyatt restaurant nearby for them be used a further performance and rehearsal space - it will seat 100 people and enable performances in the round.

Work is currently underway to change the front door and on the entrance and auditorium - seats were replaced last year.

But one thing not changing is its spooky reputation and resident ghosts - of which there are seven, ranging from ‘shadow man’ who walks through the theatre to the bar, a 1950s man with a trilby hat, a woman in Victorian dress and Fred the technician.

Another was a former actress who had a chat with a director - the day after she died.

And then there’s the ghost spotted on the balcony by a technician .

“There are days you are in and things aren’t where you left them - it’s a bit weird to say the least!” admits Ian,

Let's hope a new name will mean an even more successful future to a not so little theatre with big ambitions.

DETAILS: Check out the Chorley Little Theatre website HERE