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

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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

Revolutionary Andrew Pearson

He’s the normally super-cool artistic director of Hull-based Ensemble 52 Theatre Company but his latest project is seeing Andrew Pearson remind us all of a turbulent and red hot part of recent history.

Revolutions is the latest work to spring forth from the pen of playwright Dave Windass, harking back to the year of 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, Tiananmen Square was rocked by riot and Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and the UK said hello to rave.

Fortunately he didn’t have to do much research about the historical period that the production covers because it comes from a period that he already had an interest in and also had its brainchild in a previous production by Ensemble 52.

“We did a production called Euphoria a few years ago which took place around lot’s of different units in the fruit market area and it was about the history of club culture and the one that did really well which seemed to gravitate more towards people was the one that covered 1989.

“Then last year was 25 years since 1989 which was one of the most important years in the latter half of the 20th century but of course people were concentrating more on the first world war commemorations and not many people seemed to clock the fact that it was 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down, since Tiananmen Square and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe so I wanted to do something about that.”

We then moved on to the potential of the production being educational as well as entertaining, he says: “I think there will be an element of that but it’s certainly not going to be a history lesson, the work that we do we try and provide a stimulus so that people might want to go away and research that subject, so I would like to think that people will come and be entertained and we’ll maybe peak interest in that period and people will go away and look back at it.

“It’s also nice to maybe sort of spur people on and look at their own lives and how they would like to see things in their future.”

We then spoke about what sort of legacy the production could leave and whether what happened in 1989 could happen all over again, the ace director replied: “In some ways I think we’re always in a sort of state of revolution but when things get to a critical mass it becomes more obvious like we had the Arab Spring a couple of years ago.

“Can we do it all again? We’re not there to ram it all down anybody’s neck we just want to ask certain questions and let people figure it out for themselves.”

With just two weeks of rehearsals to get everything right cast and crew don’t have any time to play with before opening at Freedom Festival and then moving onto Hull Truck Theatre but I can’t help but think this production will be a massive winner.

Revolutions

Dave Windass Talks About Heads Up Festival And It’s Future

Hull playwright Dave Windass has spoken about the upcoming Heads Up Festival which will start on Saturday 5th September as part of Freedom Festival for the third time.

“We’ve been delighted to start Heads Up as part of Freedom Festival which has allowed us to take some really good shows to Freedom, but the festival is going to be restructured from next year,” he said.

Heads Up Festival has always been a twice yearly event every March and September but from next year it will be an annual event with it taking place in March although this doesn’t mean that Heads Up won’t have a bond with Freedom Festival.

“We hope that Heads Up Festival, as a brand, will be able to contribute theatre to Freedom Festival,” he continued.

Talking about the changes coming due to the involvement of Battersea Arts Centre coming to an end as well he said: “We’re in ongoing conversation with Battersea Arts Centre to make sure that Heads Up has got a future so it’s part of a thing called the collaborative touring network.”

Speaking next of future plans for the festival moving forward to 2017 with a purposeful look about him he says, “We’re seeing it as maybe a bit of an international festival, kind of like maybe the Edinburgh Fringe, although that’s a really big ambition.

“The festival was already going before we won City of Culture so Heads Up was a sign of Hull’s ambition, but now we want it to grow and go to other parts of Hull other than just in the city centre.”

We then spoke about what shows that are coming up in September for this Heads Up Festival and the first one that gets mentioned is one written by Mr Windass called Revolutions which has been in development for about two years and is being shown by Ensemble 52 at Freedom Festival first before moving on to a short run at Hull Truck Theatre.

“For me as one of Ensemble 52’s team, and the writer of that show, it’s very exciting to present that show as part of Freedom Festival and at Hull Truck.

“We’ve also got a show at Freedom Festival called At The End of Everything Else which is going to be in the big top and it’s powered by pedal power with the actors actually on bikes to provide the power for the show.

“Wot? No Fish!! Is also a great show that will be on at Kardomah 94 on the 2nd weekend of the Festival.

“The whole festival has some really innovative work that’s really human to the core that people will be really able to identify with.”

Talking about companies that Heads Up would like to forge partnerships with names like Middle Child, Silent Uproar and Pony Express Theatre Company are mentioned along with many others.

“Hull’s theatre ecology is really exciting and I think Heads Up is a really good umbrella for them to present their work.”

ChristopherBrettBailey_THISISHOWWEDIE_2_Credit Claire Haigh

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revolutions poster

Q and A With Dave Windass About Heads Up Festival

IPJ. You said in a recent interview “We’re developing a bad habit of shunning conventional theatre spaces” will this continue?

  1. I would like to think we’ll continue to explore other spaces in the future, it keeps you on your toes but is very expensive, it is very fashionable to do work in these site specific spaces but also it does restrict audience numbers sometimes.

IPJ. How important are places like Hull Truck to Ensemble 52 and Heads Up Festival?

  1. Hull Truck is a partner this year because Battersea Arts Centre approached them 2 years ago so they’re very important.

IPJ. Do you personally have any out of the ordinary spaces that you would like to take Heads Up Festival to in future?

  1. I would like to use the Lord Line Building, the Rank Hovis Building and the swing bridge in the old town but that’s not to say that we would create work specifically for those spaces it would still be a case of ‘Where would this piece of work fit?’

IPJ. Will Heads Up Festival ever venture outside Hull to places like maybe Beverley or Cottingham?

  1. No because of the partnership with Battersea Arts Centre we have to keep it inside Hull but we’ll try and take it as far and wide as possible from one end of Hull to the other, we’d like to reach out to disengaged audiences.

IPJ. Do any of the upcoming events particularly stand out to you personally?

  1. I’m excited about The Adventure which is an immersive story for kids that’s showing at Central Library, I would love to go and see that, Lorraine and Alan and also Gloriator, which is a female version of Gladiator also look very good.

IPJ. What about Penny Duck Theatre?

  1. We’ve worked many time with Andy Wilson who is one of the founder members of Penny Duck, they’re doing a double bill so people are getting two for the price of one, one is called Hair of the Dog and the other is Deja Shoe and knowing them as well as we do we know laughs will be guaranteed.

IPJ. What is happening with Ensemble 52 about 2017 now?

  1. We want Heads Up to be sustainable by 2017 because the agreement with Battersea Arts Centre comes to a close in 2016 so if it is we’ll hopefully attract some international acts then.

IPJ. Were you happy with how the production of Yalda went this week?

DW. Yes, Yalda is a piece in development, we know it requires further work, it gave us opportunity to see if we want to continue with it, the next version will have more action, more movement, more dance and a bit more physicality.