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.
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.
Actor Marc Graham has spoken about the Middle Child Theatre Company panto which is a Dave Windass written adaptation of Aladdin and has a special guest appearance by Hull rapper Nineties Boy.
The production, which runs from 21st to 29th December at Fruit, is the fourth time the Hull-based company have teamed up with the prolific writer for their take on the mad-cap world of pantomime and has, once again, seen Middle Child parody a popular Christmas advert, with their version of a girl making friends with Nineties Boy on the moon after seeing him through her telescope. Trailer
Looking relaxed back with the company Marc is best known for working with, after his sojourn to Hull Truck Theatre to appear in the sensational Dancing Through the Shadows, you get a definite sense of contentment as he says: “Middle Child feels like home, it’s what I’m used to, where it started for me and where I get the most enjoyment.”
Laid back on two chairs oozing the professionalism the company is known for and showing the attitude of a major star he then speaks about how the Nineties Boy connection came about: “We do a quiz at Fruit every month and Nineties Boy was on the sort of panel we have for it once so we just asked him to be in it.
He carried on in his relaxed mood: “He’s playing Wishy Washy but it’s an alternative production so it’s a very Nineties Boy Wishy Washy.”
Then we got onto the subject of working with Dave Windass for a fourth year in a row so Ensemble 52 got mentioned as I asked if he could see the two companies working together in future to which the reply had a hint of the unknown: “I don’t know, maybe but I’m not sure what we’d have to offer each other, which is a shame.”
Then he told me about the challenge of doing three different types of shows every day: “It’s really hard work doing three different performances in a day.
He continued: “Christmas is secondary because you have to be really focused on what you’re doing. Panto is really fun, you might spend the rest of the year doing really deep stuff like Mercury Fur, then panto comes along and it’s really good fun but you have to work really hard to get to that, you have to know it better than every other show you do that year.
“We try and make it completely up to date so it’ll be different every time.”
The performances will also include a band on stage which will have a different name every time and Northern Lights Drama Children’s Choir will be involved as well.
Tickets are priced at £8 Adults £6 Concessions/ £10 Adult Shows Tickets and £24 Family Tickets which is for 2 Adults and 2 Children and can be purchased on the Middle Child Website or Hull Box Office Tickets
John Godber has landed at Hull Truck Theatre with his latest offering called Poles Apart which is an attempt at asking the questions that exist between theatre and your average Joe Bloggs.
The set up, ordinary working men (scaffolders in this case) working in the slightly run-down ageing theatre with a proud history which has apparently seen its stage graced by Ken Dodd, Jasper Carrott and John Bishop, while the executive director Grahame (played by the reliable Rob Hudson) and star attraction Abi (played with great poise and presence by Ruby Thompson) fret about the opening night of the show which is meant to save the theatre financially.
Added to their problems is that workmen Phil (played with just the right chauvinistic attitude by Keith Hukin) Jan (played by the compelling Frazer Hammill) and Pete (played by the wonderfully timed Adrian Hood) seem more interested in drinking tea, eating and talking about their problems/connections with the ladies.
The first half ambles along with the occasional decent laugh to be had but seems slightly off key for a comedy although there are some definite highlights in what is a well acted piece with a strong script and the early establishment of the relationship between Grahame and the workmen is well done and draws on established theatre language that everyone will recognise instantly.
The set up before Jan’s one man show is built up quite well and his little show maybe deserved a small round of applause but didn’t get one.
There is a bit of a cliffhanger thrown in just before the interval when Phil overhears a conversation between Abi and Grahame which leaves him feeling rather annoyed.
In the second half the production clearly improves with more laughs and moving at a faster pace, however the whole piece suffers from the direction. John Godber is a wonderful writer, of that there can be absolutely no doubt, but what this piece needs is an independent director who would undoubtedly get more out of the script.
While it asks plenty of interesting questions about modern theatre and the audience it draws, and why certain people maybe don’t go, there is a spark there which needs more punch from the direction which could be un-achievable when it’s being directed by the person who wrote it.
One other area where this production also fails a bit for me is that the character of Abi is not on stage enough, when she’s there her effervescence is plain for all to see as she provides that touch of star quality that her feisty character is all about, when she isn’t there it notices although the other actors do make-up for it with some tangibly strong acting.
All-in-All the production is crying out for some stronger direction but it is also well worth watching with some good laughs guaranteed.
The production is on at Hull Truck until Saturday 14 November with tickets available at the Box Office at the theatre, on the phone on 01482 323638 or online Tickets