Building a new future
PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 February 2014
After years of working on theatre sets in a small workshop, two carpenters are moving on. ELLIS TAYLOR reveals the history, and the future, of the duo
Photos by Matt Austin
The Exeter Northcott Theatre has been a cultural landmark within the city for many years. Providing entertainment, jobs, and possibilities for hundreds of people within the community.
Although the theatre no longer produces, the shows created at Exeter Northcott in the past often had impressive sets and scenery which transported the audience into a different world. These carefully crafted creations were the handiwork of Mike Parr and Bob Johnson, who were both part of Exeter Northcott’s workshop team.
“Mike has been here since before the very beginning. The theatre opened in 1967 and we worked on sets between then and roughly 1995,” explains Bob. “Our set building days gradually wound down - in the hay day it was flat out. Sometimes there would be 20 people on the team.”
“It was a big team. Massive money, massive sets,” adds Mike, who helped build the theatre in 1966. “I was there all the way through. There was just two of us to start with then everyone came. Then, once the theatre had been built, they were advertising for a master carpenter to build sets, so I applied for the job.
“I moved into Reed hall first, then they found me the workshop which was the gardener’s shed. Then I built the first set. For the first couple of months it was just me in the workshop.”
Now, Mike and Bob have had to leave the ‘shed’ and move their carpentry business, JKP Joinery, to a larger and more modern workshop in Thorverton.
“We’re currently building for a production of Starlight Express. We’re still closely linked to the Northcott and are still involved with theatre and sets; we also build some sets for commercial photographers,” says Bob.
“We’ve been commissioned to build a big piece for next summer which we’re not allowed to talk about, there is stuff planned for the future.”
Mike and Bob have also worked with heritage sites such as Tuckers Hall, Tiverton Canal, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. As well as this, the duo work on residential projects including orangeries and kitchens.
Whilst Mike and Bob have an exciting future with JKP Joinery, it is an end of an era for the small workshop, tucked away in the University of Exeter, plastered with posters of past shows.
With so many years, sets, shows, and people passing through the workshop, what is one of their best memories?
“We had some fantastic parties here,” says Mike. “But we had so many people in the workshop that the floor started to give way so we had to stop!”