Specialist Feature Article

Hull Playgoers Society celebrates its 115th anniversary this year, the society, which is the oldest dramatic society in Hull, and played a large part in the creation of Hull New Theatre, continues to push boundaries with its productions and expansion ideas.

Founded in 1901 by Arabian-born Hull resident Duce Mohamed, the society started life in the assembly rooms in Kingston Square when it was known as the Shakespeare Players, and had its own theatre, the Little Theatre, in the old town.

However in its 20th year, financial problems, which beset any amateur, or professional, company saw then president Tom Sheppard join forces with Holbrook Jackson, who was in the process of forming a playgoers society in Hull, similar to those in Leeds and other large towns.

Rather than having two societies fighting against each other to keep alive, Sheppard and Jackson decided to come together, the result was the launch of Hull Shakespeare and Playgoers Society in 1921.

Meetings were held in a studio in the Assembly Rooms, which is now the New Theatre as we know it today.

In 1924 Edgar Appleton, who at the time was a leading figure in amateur theatre, suggested the name be shortened to the more manageable title of Hull Playgoers Society.

Despite the name change the societies aims remained the same, as they do to this day, underlined by Sheppard as, ‘To stimulate interest in the whole art of the theatre, and enable its members, by readings, discussions, lectures and performances, to become acquainted with the best in modern and classical drama’.

When the ‘Repertory movement’ started in 1924, respected actor/director Arthur R Whatmore decided to bring his repertory season to The Little Theatre, which was in Jarratt Street, next door to the Assembly Rooms.

Whatmore enlisted local actors, stage managers and electricians. The Little Theatre did three or four seasons of ‘Rep’ every year, in the meantime Hull Playgoers put on several productions there to keep the theatre alive.

Other elements of theatre that we see today can also be traced back to the early years of the movement and Hull Playgoers, for instance ‘Suggestive’ advertising helps to fill a theatre.

In March 1926 the Eastern Morning News published an article that stated, ‘Whilst on the subject of Hull Playgoers Society, a great controversy seems to have been brought about by the announcement that Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine is to be produced by Mrs James Downs at the Little Theatre. The majority of members seem to be scandalised at the sordid character of the plot, and the outspoken details of the dialogue. If some of the indignant communications received by the president were to be published, there would not be a single seat available by the time of the first night of the production’.

Soon after that sell-out production the society showed that they hadn’t forgotten their roots as a Shakespearean company by putting on a version of Romeo and Juliet, with sweethearts Lawrence Nicholson and Audrey Dannett playing the title roles.

The couple became engaged at the time, subsequently married and remained as active members of the society for many years beyond that.

That production also saw more experimentation for the society, director Haworth Earle, using the imagination and artistry that the society was, and still is, renowned for, decided it was possible to emphasise the emotion in a play, with the use of light and colour alone.

It was an experiment that worked very well and was hailed as a triumph by audiences who appeared to be part of the crowd at Verona as the Playgoers moved through the auditorium.

In November 1929, with a membership of about 400, the society moved into the Old Gaiety Picture House, the new playhouse opened on 6 December with a performance of three original one-act plays and, in March 1930, the society created history by giving the world’s first modern-dress production of Much Ado About Nothing.

In 1937 Little Theatre manager Peppino Santangelo took over the then vacant Assembly Rooms and construction work to convert the building into a theatre began. Despite the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 Santangelo persuaded directors to keep up the work.

In October 1939 Hull New Theatre opened with the production of Me and My Girl. Santangelo had wanted to open it with a Repertory Theatre season, but the war made it impossible due to a lack of local actors so they had to get outside companies to it instead.

After that in 1940 it was decided that, due to call-ups to active service, it was impossible for Hull Playgoers Society to carry on at that time, although some members did go and do work entertaining the troops with E.N.S.A.

After the war ended in 1945 a public meeting was called to see what sort of response the society would get if it started working again, with support still very enthusiastic the society wasted no time in starting work again.

In 1951 it was suggested that a junior section of the society should be formed, as a result the Playgoers Workshop was formed with Margaret Burnett as its chairman and Beryl Ashburn as the secretary.

The society first used Hull Truck Theatre in 1980, when it was at Spring Street, and are still regulars on its stage since it moved to Ferensway a few years ago.

On the expansion front they started their fringe theatre last year, which gives theatre makers a chance to show a work in development in front of an audience.

President of the society Serena Myers says: “We have regular play readings, along with two productions a year, one in Spring, the other in Autumn.

“We recently did a version of Cyrano De Bergerac at Hull Truck, and in November we’re presenting Mary Shelley at Endeavour.”

The society will also be presenting a piece of work called Last Panto in Little Grimley at the Lord Mayor’s parade on Saturday 11 June, when Shaun Chaytor and his wife, society member Claire Wildey, take office.

The fringe theatre was started with the staging of a production called Girls Night Out at Fruit theatre on Humber Street, this developmental piece was then selected by Hull Truck, where it was staged with great success, proving the power of being able to develop work in front of an audience, they then followed that with Up Pompeii.

Writer/editor Mark Bones of fledgling Radio Faces Theatre Company says: “Hull Playgoers is a great inspiration to our new company, their fringe theatre is a fantastic idea which we support whole-heartedly.

Speaking of the influence of the company, he says: “They are a driving force as we head towards City of Culture, their productions are always of a very high standard which any company should aim for.”

The society welcomes new members, applications can be made to become a member on the website hullplaygoers.org.uk, which also has details of recent and upcoming performances and readings.

The society is showing a production called The Lamplighter, a story based on the subject of slavery, in 2017 which should, undoubtedly, be another spellbinding performance from this multi-faceted company.

Rehearsals take place, every two weeks, on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 pm at Newland Primary School on Newland Avenue, members are welcomed to try acting, working behind the scenes, to read plays to the society, do chapter and verse or just to be entertained.

This article would be published in Browse magazine, a local arts and culture magazine with a connection to the City of Culture board, the target audience would be theatre goers, theatre makers and people interested in getting involved in City of Culture.




First Person Article Assignment

My Daughter Could Have Died Without Heroic Story

The floods of 2007 had a dramatic affect on Louise Beech and her family reaching far beyond the devastation it caused for other victims of it, now, long after the waters have subsided and life has returned to normal, they are still having to cope with a completely unrelated but potentially deadly problem that reared its ugly head at the same time that Hull was under water.

We had to move out of our house after being flooded and the stress seemed to have a dramatic affect on my daughter Katie but I knew there was something else wrong with her that was nothing to do with the flooding. She was 7 at the time and I had noticed she was always thirsty so she was drinking more, going to the toilet a lot and she was losing so much weight that she almost looked gaunt.

My husband Joe had also noticed something wasn’t right so between us we decided we had to do something to get to the bottom of it and taking her to the doctor was the obvious thing to do.

So I took her to the doctor, he did a finger prick test and that day our lives changed forever as he confirmed that she had Type 1 Diabetes. She was taken into hospital and kept there for three days, they were the longest three days of my life up to that point.

The whole time I was worrying, wondering what life was going to be like from now on, I didn’t want to let her out of my sight, she was my little baby girl and I wanted to protect her from this horrible condition, but at the same time I didn’t want to ‘just see the condition’ as they say.

When she came out of hospital Katie had been told to take insulin injections to keep her diabetes under control which was a routine that she soon settled into although she clearly didn’t like it.

After about three years though she started rejecting her injections, she was fed up of them and she kept saying she didn’t want diabetes anymore and didn’t want to take her injections and didn’t see why she should have to. I knew if I couldn’t get her to have her injections she would go into a diabetic coma and eventually she would die so I had to think of something to persuade her to have her injections.

The one thing I know I can do for children is tell stories, ever since I was 3-years-old I have been able to make up stories and since I was eight I’ve been writing them down on paper, so I made a bargain with Katie, if she would have her injections each day I promised I would tell her a story, either made-up or true.

At first I told her a few made-up stories, and she said they were a load of rubbish, so then I decided to tell her the true story of my grand-dad. Each time she had her injection I would tell her a little more of the story about his survival floating in a lifeboat in the South Atlantic sea for 50 terrifying days in 1943 when German U-Boats hunted in packs trying to starve Britain into submission by sinking the ships carrying precious and much needed food and other supplies.

At the time it seemed like the story of his survival after being picked up by HMS Rapid was what was keeping Katie alive but once I had finished telling her the story I knew I had to go further and tell this amazing story to the wider public.

First I wrote the short story about it then I wrote the play but I knew eventually I had to write it as a novel. It was when I went to see a psychic with my brother and sister that I was convinced to write the book, it was just as we were leaving that the psychic said to me: “What is it that you’re thinking about writing?”

So in 2013 I started writing the novel called How To Be Brave, based around my experience with Katie and the story of my grand-dad that convinced her to keep taking her precious, life-preserving injections, I finished it in early 2014.

After I had written it How To Be Brave was submitted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary Award, it got shortlisted into the final 10 but didn’t win. I had also been following Karen Sullivan on Twitter and she had been talking about starting her own book publishing business called Orenda Books so I contacted her.

After a bit she agreed to get it proof read, after that she read it twice herself and said she loved it and agreed to publish it.

Since then my life has been transformed, I’m extremely busy in a very good way, I still do the day job as an usher at Hull Truck Theatre, but I’m also doing stuff like book signings all over, I’m heading to London to do a book signing tomorrow, appearing in the Humber Mouth Literature Festival and I’m currently writing my next novel for Orenda Books which will be published next September.

All I’ve wanted to do since I was eight is tell stories and now I am whilst juggling that with marriage, kids, home life, articles, Q&A’s and being one of BBC Radio Humberside’s Mum’s Army and, of course, ensuring that Katie still has her injections.

Feature Article Assignment

The amount of people becoming homeless has shot up in recent times, as confirmed by a recent Freedom of Information request to Hull City Council which saw the number of people registered as homeless in Hull go up from 65 in the previous quarter to 114 currently.

Unfortunately these are only the known cases, there will be many, many more who haven’t registered that will swell that disturbing number further along with the amount of ‘Hidden Homeless’ who are either sofa surfing or staying in hostels in the short term.

So what can a person do when they first become homeless and what help is available to them and what issues lead to them becoming homeless in the first place?

Reasons for becoming homeless range from suffering domestic violence, being given an eviction warrant, repossession notice or notice to quit, you’ve been living with friends or family and they have asked you to leave.

Other problems can include you have nowhere to live together with your family or you’ve moved from another area but have no connection to Hull like having no family here or you’ve just been released from prison.

But the main growing problem is that your benefits are sanctioned which then sees the withdrawal of housing and council tax benefit which leaves you with massive arrears which are impossible to pay.

When you become homeless in Hull your first port of call should be to The Wilson Centre on Alfred Gelder Street to make a homeless presentation to a homeless team advisor, if you have nowhere to stay that night report there before 1pm Monday to Friday.

Upon making your homeless presentation you are likely to be given priority if you are considered vulnerable because of old age or mental or physical disability.

You will also be given priority if you have a history of institutionalisation, for instance prison or hospitals, have left your home because of a threat of violence, if you’re pregnant or have children or if you’re 16 or 17 years old.

Rough sleeper Craig Lee Thompson says he became homeless after his benefits were sanctioned two years ago around the time his mum died, he was sofa surfing for about six months but has been sleeping rough ever since, he said: “I’m only band 3 with the council because of the rent arrears I owe from when my benefits were sanctioned, now I’m just expected to go without.

“I feel like I’m being criminalised for being homeless because police are constantly threatening to arrest me if I don’t move on from wherever I’m sat at the time.

“Hopefully I will get into a hostel at some point and then I can turn my life around and get back to how I used to be with some money coming in and relying on myself and not having to beg to feed myself.”

To be classed as a rough sleeper by Hull City Council a person has to be sleeping, about to bed down, either sitting or laying in or on, or standing next to their bedding or actually bedded down in the open air.

They are also classed as rough sleepers if they are in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or an encampment or in a building or other places not designed for habitation such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats or stations.

However the definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, people in camp sites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protests, squatters or travellers.

When a person makes a homeless presentation they are sent to Humbercare for assessment at their new hostel Westbourne House on Westbourne Avenue and, depending on availability and situation they can be offered a bed there, if not they can be sent to their night shelter on Roper Street where criteria differs because each person has to queue there each evening in the hope of getting a temporary bed.

There is a further option during the winter months until the end of February because if Roper Street Hostel is full qualifying people will be given a ticket to take to the Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (Hull HARP) night shelter at Dock House.

From the help being offered at these places and others like The Crossings people will get the chance to get into more secure housing such as the Hull HARP Aspire project.

Hull HARP Outreach worker Louise Cramond said: “When anybody comes to stay here or if they access the day services like the breakfast club or the Tuesday chill-out we will work with them beyond that.

“We try and get them to engage with us and other service users and get them onto the move-on programme and offer them other help depending on their specific issues.”

Other help available includes an out-of-hours service which can be accessed by calling 01482 300304 and there is also a website Humber Help which aims to help co-ordinate information-sharing between all those whose lives are affected by the chaos of homelessness and the wide variety of local organisations that provide services of support to those in need.

Murder Mystery Night- Review

It’s not every day that you see a theatre turned into a restaurant with dining tables, seats and a three course meal with actors interacting, eating and drinking with the audience but that’s what was presented to us at Kardomah 94 last night.

But this was no ordinary evening, it was a festive murder mystery with characters like Santa and Mrs Maureen Claus, the Ice Queen, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Cindy Lou, Jack Frost and The Grinch as the cast.

On entering the theatre we were met by these fantasy characters who were all dressed for the part like the Ice Queen in a long silver dress and The Grinch smothered in green from head to foot which made a very relaxed atmosphere even more convivial and fun with a lot of high octane energy which made you forget what the evening was about.

Once everyone was seated at their respective tables with their host characters the production started with some comedy acting which set out the possible murderous conflicts very well with the revelation of Santa having a fling with the Ice Queen.

From this the action moved to include other conflicts between all the characters with fantastic comedy timing and it kept coming as the three courses of the stunning meal were being served to us.

The different characters were developed through audience/character interaction and ordinary conversations that wove the whole tapestry of the production together with real style.

As the evening proceeded there was all sorts of alternative entertainment which included the Ice Queen treating us to the sound of her fantastic singing voice whilst still holding the poise that her character demanded.

Later it was the turn of Rudolph to take to the stage for some hilarious party games, including one that had members of the audience passing fluffy fake snowballs between themselves without using their hands.

There was a pervading sense of organisation and professionalism running through the whole evening which gave a great festive atmosphere.

When the ‘murder’ of Santa Claus happened it was done swiftly and gracefully and the sense of fun continued as we all had a chance to ‘interrogate’ the suspects before Rudolph was revealed as the murderer and The Grinch was made the Christmas Meister and dressed up in a Christmas jumper and Santa hat.

All in all it was an absolute treat to be present at this evening and one can only hope that there will be more to come in future.

Hull FC Community Champions Launch

Super League club Hull FC have launched their Community Champions initiative at their #BeAHero day breakfast event at The Deep.

The purpose behind the initiative is to help underprivileged children turn their life around through the power of sport.

The club have set a target of raising £15,000 by the end of today and increasing that to £50,000 by the start of the 2016 Super League season in early February.

The presentation was made by Hull FC chairman Adam Pearson who revealed some frightening facts explaining: “Some of the areas of Hull are in the top 1% of deprivation in the country.

He also said: “44% of children in those areas of Hull live in poverty.”

The idea for the initiative is to give children complementary Season Pass memberships through the Hull FC Foundation, they will be picked up on match days, taken to the KC Stadium, given food and pre match entertainment, see the match and taken home afterwards.

Children aged 5 to 19 will also be given access to education and training to further help their future development.

Alan Johnson MP for Hull West and Hessle is supporting it and made an appearance at the breakfast launch and spoke about the importance of sport to help children he said: “This is a fantastic gesture from Hull FC and a worthwhile campaign that will allow us all to become Community Champions and reach out to young people in our region to give them the opportunity that otherwise would pass them by.

He also said: “I am extremely proud to be to be an ambassador for this project which will make a difference to the lives of many young people and I’m sure will leave a legacy in terms of promoting fans and players of the future and healthy and happy lives.”

Hull FC and former New Zealand international Iafeta Palea’aesina will be another ambassador for the initiative.

Another club community champion Jon Hilton gave a talk about his background and why he is also supporting the initiative with an impassioned speech which resonated with all who were present at this emotionally charged event.

FC Voices representative at the launch Lisa Jewitt said: “It’s a great initiative, FC Voices are proud to commit to this and help raise the money the club needs for it.”

The club need people to spread the word and get people and businesses to commit to this and leave a lasting legacy for the generations moving forward, people and businesses can pledge anything from £5 upwards and the club will match the donation.

The initiative will also be run in memory of former Hull FC and England youth player Bradley Parker who tragically died in a car accident earlier this month.

People can pledge by calling Ash Foster on 01482 327200 and you can find out more and pledge online at   www.crowdfunder.co.uk/hullfc

A Bit Of Colour Writing

I arrived at Kardomah 94 about 10 minutes before the show was due to start and introduced myself to the two ladies who were checking tickets and taking donations for the people who are all fighting against food poverty.

Throughout the venue an air of hope and willingness for the cast and production pervaded as everyone knew they were taking on a very risky subject and there were going to be no holds barred in what was to come. The dim lighting added to the atmosphere as people, able bodied and disabled alike, gathered together in the audience to see this tragically prevalent story.

I was here to take notes and write a review, which I subsequently did, but not before I saw what looked like a portion of my former life before my very eyes, it made me want to weep and angry at the incompetence of ‘Authority’ all over again.

This could have been my, or many other people’s, story on a stage for all to see.

Dean Kirk and Hull Red Labour- Council story

Former Labour party Councillor Dean Kirk says his new Hull Red Labour party will be vocal in the council chamber, through their only representative Gill Kennett, and in the local area.

Mr Kirk, formerly the councillor for Derringham ward for the ruling Labour party, stood in Myton Ward this time, a ward where he has been a resident for 20 years.

He said he and Ms Kennett set up the party due to their opposition to austerity cuts being forced on Hull City Council by the Conservative led government last year, opposition which led to them being suspended.

He confirmed that Coun Shaun Moody and Coun Dermot Rathbone and Jan Hornby are all defecting from the Labour party to join Hull Red Labour saying they have five candidates now and will have a sixth in time for the local elections in May 2016.

Their main objective is to fight against austerity and to provide a voice of opposition moving forward.

Mr Kirk said: “We think the Labour run council has just rolled over and accepted the Tory governments cuts without a fight.

“We will be the REAL Labour party.”

Saying the last election was about building a platform he said he was quite pleased with the amount of votes they received, although he did say some people had been in touch since to say they voted for the wrong Labour party by mistake which cost them hundreds of votes.

Mr Kirk also said: “I believe councils shouldn’t sit on pots of money for a rainy day.

“The Labour run Hull City Council has a reserve of £11M that they’re not doing anything with, that money needs spending on services and jobs, not just left in the background waiting for a rainy day.”

Mr Kirk, who is still a governor at Rise Academy and Pearson Primary school, says he will continue to support homeless people in the area and make people aware of Hull Red Labour.

He also said there will be leaflets being posted through letter boxes in the coming weeks and months as they gear up for the next election.

Tough Times in City Centre According to Independent Businessman- News story

Hull trader Van McIntyre claims times are tough because a drain of businesses away from the city centre has had a devastating effect on trade.

Mr McIntyre who owns Chapel Street News said there are too many empty units in the area around his shop, Jameson Street and Paragon Street which has put people off visiting the town centre.

He also expects some disruption because of the regeneration work which has recently started for the 2017 City of Culture events.

Even the opening of a new Sainsbury’s has had a double edged impact on independent traders in the immediate vicinity.

Mr McIntyre said: “It could be seen as an advantage and a disadvantage because it brings a bit more trade to this area but also they sell everything that we sell like Lottery and confectionary.

“We don’t mind the competition but when there’s a large concentration of similar units in a small area it doesn’t help anyone.”

Asked about the regeneration work, and its effect on his business Mr McIntyre blamed the council for a lack of work on the pavements and roads in the area over the years which has also put people off visiting.

Coun Martin Mancey has recently said that Hull BID have a very important part to play in the consultation between the council and local businesses but Mr McIntyre says not all city centre businesses agree with the work Hull BID do.

“We would probably prefer more direct consultation from the council,” said Mr McIntyre: “As businesses we need to know more about what’s going on and that way hopefully we can minimize any disruption.”

Whilst expecting the events in 2017 will increase footfall and, therefore business, he also believes it needs more investment to bring more people back to the city centre.

Mr McIntyre also said it’s a concern that Pizza Hut and Starbucks have recently left the area.

“There’s no eating areas which, for a city centre of this size, is very poor fayre, we’ve lost Pizza Hut and Starbucks and there’s a genuine lack of eating places anyway,” Said Mr McIntyre.