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North West producers in annual Stage 100 list

Will Whelton (l) and Joe Houston of Hope Mill Theatre (Hope Aria), and (r), Bill Elms (Rhian Askins)
Will Whelton (l) and Joe Houston of Hope Mill Theatre (Hope Aria), and (r), Bill Elms (Rhian Askins)

In a pandemic-stricken year that has seen even the world's greatest stage producers cutting staff and cancelling shows, The Stage's annual Top 100 list has this year given more prominence than usual to smaller, independent companies and individuals.

And among them are Manchester's highly-praised Hope Mill Theatre and independent theatre PR man-turned-producer Bill Elms, both of whom make the select Putting On Shows section.

Hope Mill's success story couldn't have been more meteoric, with a large number of London transfers and glowing critical and public reviews to the credit of founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton.

And Bill Elms, the Liverpool PR man who has worked over the years for some of the biggest theatres and chains in the UK, managed to turn a crisis into an opportunity by becoming a festival producer.

Hope Mill’s revival of Rent, originally due in July, reopened the theatre two months later and was on course to play for weeks to a musicals-deprived fanbase until it was forced to close only five shows into its run by the second national lockdown. Undaunted, the theatre managed to record, then stream, the production after that.

Elms put together a strong, varied nine-day programme for his first Liverpool Theatre Festival, held in the grounds of the bombed out St Luke’s church in the city. 

"Elms did a huge amount of work to put the performances on and support theatre and its workers in Liverpool," said The Stage.

The festival was one of a number of productions Elms' company had staged iin recent years, from Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles to popular hit By The Waters Of Liverpool.

The achievements of Hope Mill and Bill Elms, plus those of several others from around the UK on the Stage's list, are representative of dozens of smaller regional theatres, which have carried on producing new work mostly online since theatres closed in March.


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