Cottier Theatre boss had dramatic young life... but stage now set for success

THEATRE boss Pete Sneddon's own life would make an incredible stage drama.

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n Pete Sneddon has helped put the Cottiers Theatre firmly in the spotlight in recent years  Pictures:  Martin Shields
n Pete Sneddon has helped put the Cottiers Theatre firmly in the spotlight in recent years Pictures: Martin Shields

Right now, the 33-year-old successfully runs Cottiers Theatre in Hyndland, Glasgow, with his business partner Iain Munro, and he is happily married to Morag with a four-month-old daughter, Olive.

But Pete was brought up by a manic depressive mother who had been abused as a child by her family of alcoholics.

As a result, Pete would suffer his own emotional problems, leading to a breakdown.

And there was always drama in the Sneddon house – wherever it may be.

When Pete was five the family moved from Glasgow to Cornwall, where his geo-engineer dad found work.

Little Peter loved Cornish life, and took part in his first theatrical production, playing a theatre producer, in a Shakespearean parody.

He said: "My dad loved theatre and told me to switch my line to 'Friends, Romans, Cornishmen - lend me your ears.' And it worked. I got big laughs. I was hooked."

However, when Peter was seven his mum had a nervous breakdown. Five years later her condition worsened and Pete's dad brought the family back to Glasgow to help her recovery. But it was her son who suffered.

"I found it difficult," he recalls. "From a gentle world by the sea I moved to the south side of Glasgow and encountered real racial tension at Shawlands Academy. I had an English accent I had to lose quickly.

"But I didn't turn the other cheek. I was arrogant and quick-tempered. I hit back. So I had to move school."

He moved, and life improved. Pete returned to theatre with am-dram and he showed real promise – but life got in the way.

"I was attacked in Queen's Park as a teenager by three neds, for no reason," he reveals.

"I was stabbed seven times. That same day my parents had moved back to Cornwall. As a result, I lost all my self-confidence. I didn't go on stage again."

Worse was to come. Pete took to drink and drugs. He had played drums as kid, but gave up.

On leaving school he tried several jobs, including working in a nightclub. Then he met a drum technician Alexander (Zed) Ruxton, at a high school gig and asked for work experience.

Pete had a job, but the partying and the drugs got out of hand. When he was 19 he was unemployed – and practically friendless.

He said: "I spent a few months in my mate's flat, the coldest flat I had ever been in, until one day the phone rang and my dad asked me to come back to Cornwall.

"So I went back down, worked for a furniture company until my mother asked me what I was planning to do with my life."

Pete had kicked the drugs at this point. He said: "I had watched a friend high on drugs beat up his pregnant girlfriend. I had to intervene to stop him. That did it for me – and I stopped drinking as well."

Pete went to college to study music production, and wrote and played music in bands. His band moved to London in 2001, aiming become rock stars.

"Unfortunately, we had moved to Catford, which is the perfect place if you want to run a kebab shop," he says, grinning.

"But London wasn't for me. I was agoraphobic and a bit lost and living in a tiny bedsit."

A few weeks later Pete's grandmother died.

He says: "She left me £1200 and I came back to Glasgow for the funeral. I decided I would never go back to London again."

Pete landed work as a theatre technician and running events for local authorities. He was successful and even opened a recording studio. But in 2002 Pete found out he was going to be a dad, and had a nervous breakdown.

He and his partner later split, but he played out the role of dad. Yet, the panic attacks and depression continued.

He said: "Most of it came from my childhood, growing up with a mother who was emotionally unavailable and a father who was trying to look after his wife – and an angry man himself. On top of that, my brother hated me."

Not the best cards to be dealt with? "It's been a challenge," he says with some understatement.

His mother committed suicide seven years ago. Meantime, he was ill with stress, migraines, depression.

He couldn't function. Then one day Pete's flatmate got a call asking if he knew anyone who could operate a mixing desk. The flatmate said, 'Funny enough -'

That teamed Pete with Iain Munro. The pair would go on to run SCENEgineering, a firm that provides custom-made scenery, props and sets for exhibitions, film and TV.

"It was brilliant," he says of the new lease of working life.

"I went back to doing what I loved, doing big gigs. And at this point I went to therapy. Turned out my migraines, headaches came from a jaw being out of alignment.

"And I tried all sorts of therapies to sort out my emotional problems."

Pete and Iain turned their attention to Cottiers, the former church in Hyndland.

"I had always wanted to run a theatre," he says. "I have worked for so many local authority theatres and they did not seem to be run too well. I figured I could do better.

"We had to convince the Four Acres Trust, which owns and operates the building, we could handle the job, but it has all worked out well."

The theatre ran between 1993 and 2005 before closing for major building work.

It reopened in March 2011, with Pete and Iain coming in with investment capital, running the venue on a percentage profit basis.

Cottiers Theatre – a separate business from the bar and restaurant – is a great success, fronting shows from Alvin Stardust to Arthur Miller plays.

Pete caters for fledging theatre companies to student productions. And he has had sell-outs with productions of the likes of Des Dillon's I'm No A Billy – He's A Tim.

There is also panto, with the upcoming Weans In The Wood, starring Still Game's Mark Cox and River City's Claire Knight.

And the Cottiers brand is set to grow, with the opening next summer of Cottiers Kelvinbridge, formerly the Landsdowne Church in Great Western Road, with a 150-seat theatre, with a small studio upstairs.

Pete reveals he wrote his own musical, which was staged at the venue two years ago.

"It was based on the Count Of Monte Cristo, a story of betrayal, anger, revenge - issues I know quite a lot about," he says.

He adds, laughing; "Look, I don't want to remain bound to misery. I plan to make the next 33 years way much more of a fun time."

l Weans In The Wood, Cottiers Theatre, December 5-31.

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