IT’S a story so unlikely that if you pitched it as the basis for a show it would be turned down flat for being too outlandish.

And yet the fact is that two actors who moved from London to Manchester and saw a building being advertised on Gumtree have turned the engine shed of a Grade II listed mill into one of the most talked-about and respected new theatres in the country.

Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats celebrates its third anniversary in October and already three of its productions have transferred to London and its shows have picked up a host of awards and rave reviews.

“It has been a complete whirlwind,” said Joseph Houston who, along with William Whelton, is behind Hope Mill Theatre.

“When Will and I set out to open a venue we had a five-year plan and I think that the five-year plan has happened in two which is just amazing.”

The idea of opening a venue came after Joe and Will moved to Manchester.

“We thought we could be performers but didn’t need to live in London to do that,” said Joe. “It’s a hard life when you’re trying to scrape together the rent so we came moved up here with view to start working here and perhaps getting a house - not a theatre!”

The pair soon immersed themselves into the arts scene in the city.

“When you live in London you are very much in this London- centric bubble where you think that’s where all the arts and creatives are but we got to Manchester and you realise there is a lot of stuff happening here which is really exciting.”

The idea for a venue developed when they realised there were no smaller venues committed to musical theatre.

“That was a surprise to us,” said Joe. “Initially it was very much a dream, us just saying ‘wouldn’t it be cool to open a venue?’. It’s not as though we had any money but we started to look at what might be out there.”

Having viewed a number of possible buildings that weren’t suitable Joe and Will saw an advert on Gumtree for the former engine room at Hope Mill.

“The mill has housed arts studios for the last 12 years but the landlords had never been able to let the engine room,” said Joe. “It was just being used as a storeroom.

“We’d only seen one photo of it on Gumtree and went to see it - it was just an empty space. In the bar area there were iron pillars holding up the ceiling so we were both thinking it was no use as a theatre then the landlords took us into the other room which was just perfect. We knew then that it was the right space.”

The pair told the landlords that they would take it.

“They were very reluctant,” said Joe. “Let’s face it there were these two guys who were 25 and 26 at the time with no money saying they were going to open a theatre. We hadn’t thought about how we were going to do it, about any of the logistics involved, we didn’t even have a business plan.

“We had to sit down and think ‘right, how are we going to make this work?’.”

It took six months of negotiations for Will and Joe to put a plan together and having presented their business plan, Hope Mill Theatre was born.

For the first 12 months the pair opened a cafe in what is now the theatre bar, bringing in income and allowing them to develop the 120-seat theatre space.

“Our aim has always been to be a producing theatre,” said Joe, “somewhere where musicals can start and then hopefully transfer to London or go out on tour.”

The pair teamed up with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment,who is now resident producer and co-artistic director, and in March 2016, Hope Mill’s first production Parade opened.

“It was a full-scale musical that not many people knew with a cast of 15 and nine musicians in a venue no-one had really heard of and yet the four week run sold out and we actually had to extend it by a week,” said Joe.

Subsequent productions have included Yank. Hair and Pippin which have all had runs in London.

“Getting Yank to London was a massive thing for us - it really made people take notice of what was happening at Hope Mill,” said Joe.

This week, Hope Mill’s most ambitious production to date -Aspects of Love - opened, offering a new take on a classic musical.

“So much has happened in such a relatively short space of time,” said Joe. “The venue was set up with lot of ambition, a lot of passion and a ton of naivety and that was definitely good. We have had to learn from our mistakes.

“We have developed a great following, audiences know they are going to get something different and of incredible quality. They will experience a musical like they have never experienced it before.

“We want to continue producing shows at Hope Mill, we want to tour Hope Mill shows and to take them to London; ultimately we want a Hope Mill show to go into the West End.”

Given how much they have achieved in such a short space of time, that’s a far from unrealistic ambition.

Aspects of Love runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Ancoats, until August 9. Details from