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.

Marc Graham Interview About Middle Child Theatre Panto

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

 

Poles Apart review

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

Poles Apart

Paul Smith Talks About Middle Child’s Mercury Fur Production

Hull-based Middle Child Theatre Company are taking on a formerly controversial production originally written by Philip Ridley and giving it a new location on the 10th anniversary of its original release.

The play, which premiered in 2005 at Plymouth Theatre Royal before moving on to Menier Chocolate Factory in London, has for the first time been given a northern setting in unit 15 of the abandoned Lowgate Centre in Hull City Centre.

Middle Child’s effervescent artistic director Paul Smith took time out from rehearsals to tell me about this risky production which centers around a post-apocalyptic version of Hull, as opposed to London’s East End where it was originally set.

He said: “We wanted to take on something really challenging. It’s a bit like 28 Days Later meets This Is England and Mad Max.

“We want it to be very intense and immersive, we picked the building we’re in because not being surrounded by a theatre means we have more space to work in.”

Middle Child regular actor Marc Graham is currently acting in sensational Hull Truck production of Dancing Through the Shadows so I asked if he’s being missed, Paul replied: “No not really, Marc is a fantastic actor but we’re quite a big company so we’re used to people coming in and dropping out and we’re all just thrilled for Marc to be working at Truck.”

Getting back to the matter in hand Paul says: “We really want to challenge audiences with this one, it’s the first time it’s been set away from the South of England, it’s very sight specific so it will feel very relevant to the people of Hull for sure.

“We want to stimulate debate and this piece is perfect for that because it’s so controversial and it really forces engagement and asks a lot of questions.”

Sitting in the actual venue where this challenging, multi-faceted piece of theatre is going to be happening it’s difficult to believe that come next Wednesday it’s going to double as a theatrical space, but at the same time considering the setting of the production it is also in seemingly a perfect state to communicate it as everyday items like chairs, food and drink containers and bits of paper are strewn around us and adorn the walls.

Although the performance will be set in this one room at the very top of the high building the rest of the venue is going to be made into an immersive experience so the audience will be ready for the action once it starts.

Middle Child have also brought in 10-year-old actor Charlie Thompson to play the part of the character known as ‘The Party Piece’ who is a child that has been kidnapped by central characters Elliot and Darren who, along with their gang, live on their wits in this world of degenerates who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Tickets are £12 OTD or £10 in advance and can be purchased at https://thelittleboxoffice.com/middlechild

They are also giving offers of ‘Pay What You Want Wednesday’s or if you book in a group of 5 or more each ticket will only cost £5.

The show runs from 14 to 24 October although there are none on the 18th and 19th, there will also be a Saturday Matinee performance on the 17th.

There is a talk back with original writer Philip Ridley after the performance on Thursday 15th October and if you go and see the show on either of the Saturday’s you will get £2 off entry into Welly that night.

Middle Child 4 Middle Child 3 Middle Child 6

Dancing Through the Shadows- Review

If there is a better show at Hull Truck Theatre in the coming months, even years, I would very much like to see it. This latest Hull truck production, written by the masterly Richard Vergette is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word.

A superb cast of Laura Aramayo, Marc Graham, Christine Mackie, John Elkington and Jim English make this an absolute must-see treat of epic proportions.

Beautiful direction from Mark Babych and wonderful set and costume design from Dawn Allsopp just add to the grandness of this visually stunning story.

The effervescent opening with Neville Chaimberlain claiming ‘Peace In Our Time’ in September 1938 sees the cleverly written start of the budding relationship between Sylvia (Aramayo) and Tom (Graham) as they celebrate the good news that everybody at that time had been hoping for.

The relationship between the two young lovers is beautifully and masterfully developed early on and then of course came the moment of the declaration of war with Germany and suddenly the whole dynamic was changed as if the stage was balanced on a sixpence.

The music in the background set the tone absolutely expertly and the story became a genuine roller coaster of emotions and huge respect, not only for the full cast which included a community ensemble, but also as we were given a ride through it, for the people who lived through this most awful part of Hull’s history.

But along with the very powerful heart rending moments there was also some fun and comedy on offer that just lifted the mood in the auditorium and set people giggling. The class divide between Hessle and Hessle Road is also perfectly acted as rich (Tom, Grace and Gilbert) are brought together with rough and ready (Sylvia, Maurice and David) by the now blossoming relationship and the destruction of World War 2.

The part of Brian (also played by Graham) is perfectly pitched as the wide boy looter and black market Spiv, just adding to the character that the production exudes. John Elkington gives a wonderful performance as both Maurice and Gilbert, he and Graham seemingly handle playing two roll’s with great poise and minimal effort, a true indication of their prowess.

The desperation of war is superbly established and extremely effectively communicated, no more so than when Hull is hit by a stray bomb after the all clear has sounded, killing a young mother and her baby despite Maurice’s attempts to save them.

The interval is also perfectly timed leaving a big cliffhanger caused by the blitz of 7 May 1941 when Hull City Centre was virtually flattened.

You barely have a moment to settle back into your seat before you are shocked with the opening to the 2nd half beginning where the 1st half left off.

There is a big change in the emotional state on stage after the interval and it’s not just caused by David signing up and going off to fight, but once again the hopelessness of war is very well expressed and the occasional one-liner from either Sylvia or Grace does just nicely lift the mood again.

The way the set is designed and the sound effects of the bombing give you a sense of what it must have been like to live through this tragic period as you are left emotionally tested while always hoping for the best for the characters who you really identify with and develop feelings and emotions as powerful as a speedboat on the Humber Estuary.

The characters are thoroughly believable and lovable all at the same time and the ensemble cast are not just merely there to make up the numbers they are there as an essential part of the storyline and used to great affect by the director.

After the literally heart-wrenching moment of an incident caused by the war, particularly on the Normandy Beaches on D-Day, there is genuine shock and bewilderment, followed by some harsh words which then eventually give way to thankfulness.

After the abject failure of the BBC to include this ‘North-East Coast Town’ in its recent series about Blitz Cities, Hull now has a very proud answer to that snobbish failure, the next UK City of Culture can be outstandingly proud of its traditionally iconic theatre that was founded by Mike Bradwell almost out of protest.

After the performance Marc Graham said: “It’s a really good cast, they’re lovely to work with.

“The ensemble cast are older members of the youth theatre here so they really know what they’re doing as well.”

Speaking about playing two characters, including a lead, he said: “I loved it… It was really great to be able to tap into the two characters, Brian is obviously the secondary character who is quite a wide boy, while Tom really gets down and serious.

“With the injury that Brian suffers I just kind of thought about how would somebody like that react to losing something like a leg.”

Speaking about working on this particular project with Laura Aramayo he said: “It’s great to be able to work with her on something like this, I’ve worked with her before but only on small stuff so to work with her on this, with the run it’s having is great.

“We had a good talk before about what our characters are going to do and what it would be like for them and of course with the class divide which was a real struggle and still is a real struggle unfortunately.”

I then spoke to the writer Richard Vergette about this premiere performance after the three previews last week.

He was obviously very happy with how it had gone, saying: “We let it go tonight and it seemed to go well and the audience response was very enthusiastic so yes I’m a very happy man and a relieved man tonight.

He then spoke about his delight at how the cast had handled the story: “I think it’s really important that when you’re working with a company on a piece that is as emotionally intense as this is that you’ve got a group of people who are willing to invest themselves as enthusiastically and passionately as they did.

“I’m absolutely delighted at the way that the actors have responded to the challenges of the piece.”

Talking about the community ensemble who are involved he said: “I didn’t realise when I wrote it that the community would be involved but I’m delighted with them.

“They’re a real bonus and they are a very important part of it not just an add on.”

Clearly enjoying talking about the production he then said: “This play is about Hull, for Hull and it’s about one of the most desperate times in its history, which largely the population is not aware of.

“They don’t know that this was the most bombed city outside of London, 1200 people perished, 3000 were injured or maimed 90-95% of houses were destroyed or damaged at least once and that the city re-grouped and re-found itself is a testament to its courage and its ability to take care of each other.”

It is a play for Hull but the writer would also like to see it go outside Hull because “The themes are universal and people maybe don’t realise what a part Hull played in the war.”

You can buy tickets in the box office at the theatre on Ferensway, on 01482 323638 or online at http://www.hulltruck.co.uk/book-tickets/buy-online

The show runs until Saturday 24th October

How To Be Brave Book Launch

Debut novelist Louise Beech has launched her first book How To Be Brave at Hull Central Library last night.

The delightful new girl on the potential best-seller block was supported by several friends and family, including her daughter who provided the inspiration behind the novel, and her husband as well as publisher Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books.

The book, which has been greeted with critical acclaim, tells the true story of the authors grandfather’s survival in a lifeboat drifting at sea for 50 incredible days, which saw 12 of the 14 occupants who clambered into it not make it home in 1943.

This book though offers up a second true story, based around her own struggle to get her daughter to take her life-saving diabetic medication, by promising her a story before she would take it.

Add into the mix a story of a book bringing family members back together after decades apart and you have a true fairy-tale like story of epic proportions which must see this book gain the success it surely deserves.

Speaking personally I must say I’ve known Louise for some years now through her involvement with Hull Truck Theatre and the fact that, like me, she is also a playwright, and you can trust me when I say that nobody deserves the success she is enjoying now more than her.

With her effervescent personality, her winning smile and her magnificent writing she has a definite star quality about her that just exudes lovability and star quality.

When she was asked where she saw this leading in a year from now our delightfully bubbly center of earned attention joked about going to Hollywood, but it did leave me wondering if that might be the next stop for the girl from the next UK City of Culture, let’s see what happens next!!

Louise Beech Book Signing

Photos kindly supplied by Jerome Whittingham at Photomoments

Twitter: @photomoments