In 1991 Roger, a set designer, and Charlotte, a former stage manager, bought a redundant Edwardian Laundry, with the intention of designing and building The World Of Beatrix Potter. But the award-winning attraction left plenty of space empty and the couple soon realised it could provide a perfect fit for a theatre. Roger said: “The Beatrix Potter exhibition wasn’t big enough to fill the whole building, and one day I suddenly had an epiphany. I had been working with Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough and noticed that the space we had left would make a similarly perfect theatre in the round. “I phoned Alan to ask if he would be willing to bring some of his shows if we opened a theatre and he joked, ‘why not? we will all be dead soon’, so we went ahead with the project and in a matter of months the Old Laundry Theatre was open.”
The pair’s close working relationship continues to this day, with Sir Alan having stuck to his word and sent a play to be performed almost every year since. Charlotte explains: “Alan helps the seasons to pulse along, he has a very big fan base and there is always a great buzz around his shows. “He has written 78 plays now, and we are very lucky he has kept his promise and sent a new one almost every season.”
“We rely largely on The World Of Beatrix Potter to keep the theatre going. “Someone once said to me, ‘if you lose money every year and don’t make any profits, why do you do it?’ And my answer to him was ‘because we have a passion for it’. “Theatres are closing down everywhere at the moment so we count ourselves lucky to be in the privileged position of running a theatre.” The couple also attribute their success to the unwavering support of many of their well-known friends. Charlotte explains: “We are lucky to have many fantastic trustees such as Victoria Wood, Griff Rhys Jones, Alan Rickman and, of course, Alan Ayckbourn. “Victoria Wood has supported the theatre for many years and has held many benefits to help raise our profile. We have had lots of great support.”
Despite the success of the Old Laundry Theatre and the couple’s background in performing arts, neither Charlotte or Roger had ever envisaged they would one day be running their own theatre. Charlotte said: “We definitely didn’t set out to run a theatre, it just happened. “It was almost fate the way the empty space was a perfect fit for a 270-seat theatre in the round. “And we also didn’t realise how perfect the acoustics would be in the building until the first musicians took to the stage. Everything has just fallen into place, it’s like the theatre found us. “Looking back now, we both say that we wouldn’t dare do it again. We were naive and just flew in and went for it. “The most poignant memory for me over the past 20 years has to be the opening night. The paint was still wet and as guests were entering the theatre I noticed the decorators leaving up the hill with paint pouring out the back of the truck. “From deciding to build the theatre to opening was only a few months. It was very rushed.”
With a host of new projects in the pipeline, Charlotte explains that she is often too busy thinking about the future to reminisce about the past.
She said: “It is great to be planning the new season and instead of looking back over the past 20 or so years we are keen to look forward. “We are hoping to dedicate more time to running our own productions and employ a few more staff as we only have one dedicated theatre staff member at the moment. “Our son has recently graduated from university where he studied music production so he is helping out this season for the first time. “He keeps saying that the theatre would make a fabulous music venue, so if he gets his own way, that could be our next big project”