Review of Mercury Fur by Middle Child Theatre Company

Hull-based Middle Child Theatre Company have launched their first ever extended run of a single production with a relocating of the controversial Mercury Fur which was written by Philip Ridley and originally launched in 2005 in Plymouth and then London where it was originally set.

The production is set in post-apocalyptic Hull and takes place in the abandoned unit 15 of the Lowgate Centre in Hull Old Town, on entry you are given directions to where the performance is taking place at the top of the building, you’re told to follow the butterflies (pictures on the walls) and step over the dead dog, which I didn’t see, and this is meant to immerse you in the sort of futuristic world that the production is set in.

The long walk up the stairs is slightly arduous but is a half-decent scene setter, however when you enter the room where the action is taking place you are struck by the dim light and the general almost anarchic state of the room with rubbish strewn around in a great panic and signs on the walls saying things like: If at first you don’t succeed… Call An Air-raid, Army of One, Hope Is All We Have and If You Tell A Lie Enough, It Becomes Politics.

The background music and sound is set perfectly to draw you in and immerse yourself in this unforgiving world that is being replicated.

When the action starts you’re thrown into the edge-like life of Darren (played with superb resonance by Laurie Jamieson) and his big brother Elliot (Played with admirable menace by Joshua Mayes Cooper) who survive on their wits in this new world and not much more.

The story moves at a very good pace and once it has hold of you it doesn’t let go, to the point that this 2 hours 20 minutes performance doesn’t actually include an interval, which makes it all the more immersive and entertaining because of the subject matter.

The timing of the entry, and the backstory, of Naz (Played with great relish by the great Nima Taleghani) is pitched quite well but the building of the relationship between him and Darren is done with absolutely the right amount of suggestion and, when it becomes slightly more controversial than you expect, it does seem to fit very well with the surroundings and the story, and is very well acted and very sensitively handled by the two actors.

With the clearly very disturbed Darren (who has a penchant for eating butterflies as if they’re hard drugs) being bossed by Elliot and the developing friendship with the very disturbed but also impossibly laid-back Naz you begin to genuinely care and worry about the characters and you also start to wonder what the ending will be like.

Elliot’s true love Lola (daringly well played by Laurence North) is a genuine character to remember with great control and desire.

The part of Spinx (admirably portrayed by Edward Cole) is very well developed by the three main characters even before you see him, and when he arrives he is exactly as you imagine him, as long as your imagination stretches to a man with a blonde mohican and wearing trousers, boots and a 3/4 length fur coat.

When Spinx arrives he has a surprise guest with him called The Duchess (played by the wonderful Madeleine MacMahon), whose appearance causes great panic even before she enters the room. The Duchess is quite a peripheral part in some ways, but absolutely essential and heartbreakingly lovable and understated all at the same time.

10-year-old Charlie Thompson is very strong as the character known only as The Party Piece, around whom this whole sordid party is built, along with the Party Guest (played rather convincingly by James Stanyer) and as the production moves towards its seemingly horrific ending it doesn’t wilt in any way shape or form.

The story is driven along by the power of suggestion, particularly by Spinx, which seems to suggest an awful fate for the Party Piece at the hands of the bloodthirsty Party Guest, but even as the meat hook is being sharpened a terrible twist befalls one of the other characters.

Finally, as the Party Guest gets his evil way in the bathroom, the whole audience are left sitting in what is effectively the Living Room, hearing bitter and almost sickening howls of pain, before the Party Guest is stopped by an unexpected interruption and his victim is taken from his grasp and brought back in a thoroughly horrible mess.

Eventually the production ends as it began, with Darren and Elliot arguing and clearing up the mess, but this time there’s a difference which leaves it with the sort of cliffhanger ending that the story demands.

The whole piece is expertly directed by Paul Smith, last week he told me that Middle Child “Really want to challenge audiences with this one.” That objective is very powerfully achieved in breathtaking fashion, take a bow Middle Child Theatre Company.

Opera on the Marina, Rebecca Newman interview

People’s soprano Rebecca Newman has expressed a soft spot for Hull in an interview at The Minerva pub on the Marina as she prepared to take part in the first Opera on the Marina event and outlined some future plans too.

Speaking first of her recent experience touring with international superstar Russell Watson she said the tour “Absolutely everything, and more,” that she had hoped it would be.

Despite an incredible schedule over several months there is still no let up for this incredibly hardworking lady for at least a few weeks yet as she promotes her forthcoming show in Lichfield and a programme she’ll be doing on BBC Radio 2 with Sir Terry Wogan.

“I’m hoping come the 20th July I might get a couple of days off and maybe switch my phone off,” She says with a little giggle.

Moving onto her appearance at Opera on the Marina as the headline act she explains it’s fantastic to be back in Hull and, as much as she loved being on tour with Russell Watson, it was going to be nice to be able to do some more on stage and show her full repertoire.

“I can have a bit more of a rapport with the audience and tell a few more stories, that sort of thing.”

Her passion for Hull came over very strongly as we spoke about the impending performance with Hull classical group Tre Amici “It’s fantastic, I think I do more stuff in Hull than I do in York where I live now, I think I’ve done so much stuff in Hull over the last couple of years it’s more like a bit of a second home at the moment.”

She then explains about future events, “I’ve got a new booking agent so we’re looking the next year ahead and there will be a tour next Spring so it’s likely there’ll be a tour date in Hull then.

“We’re also looking to bring out another album next Spring as well just ahead of the tour.”

This entirely enchanting lady then continues to say that they’re looking at some slightly different options but it’s probably going to be a similar project to Dare to Dream with crowd funding so everybody can feel part of the creation of the album again.

We then start talking about the incredible support of the Newmaneer’s who follow her in massive numbers and who she has an incredibly close relationship with wherever she goes, “They’re amazing, they support me by buying tickets to performances like this one this evening and buying CD’s, that’s important.

“But also they’re important to me because I don’t think they realise how much they keep me going when I have a low day, when I’m tired you know, when some of my equipment’s broken and I’ve got to get the car fixed and when you hit the normal challenges.

“People only see the successes and things when they’re right because I tell people about them but when something goes right a hundred things go wrong and I keep plowing on regardless and it’s the wonderful support that I receive that keeps me going in many, many ways.

“They’re so friendly as well and that great because it helps me and also attracts more people to my support base because people look at it and they maybe think they’d like to be part of that club.”

The next question while all around us is a hive of activity is if there’s anybody else in particular she would like to sing with to put on the list next to the likes of Russell Watson and Aled Jones who she’s already worked with which draws a very definite response with a little cheeky glint in the eyes.

“Oh absolutely, Alfie Boe wants to sing with me but we haven’t been able to sort that out yet, he keeps asking me ‘When are we going to sing together?’ But, when I can I will be there with bells on, but he’s got a management company to work with so it’s not always as simple as that but I would love to get the opportunity to sing with Alfie.

“Also Noah Stewart is a fantastic tenor who I met a couple of years ago, he’s a very talented, and very hardworking singer who I would like to work with.”

Getting onto the subject of favourite venues places like the Royal Albert Hall are inevitably mentioned but she clearly also enjoys a nice intimate venue and the tour with Russell Watson has obviously provided her with chances to sing in some venues that she has really enjoyed although some do seem to have blended together.

“On the tour there were times when I wasn’t really remembering where I’d been but Buxton was beautiful, Basingstoke was fantastic, Leeds Grand was very good and Hull New Theatre was also fantastic with easily one of the loudest audiences on the whole tour.”

And with that the interview was ended as she has to go and prepare for what turned out to be a fantastic show on Hull Marina, we can only hope that she is back in her second home sooner rather than later.

Rebecca Newman on stage

Work Done For Sound Podcasts

Work Done for Sound Podcasts.

Most of the work I have done for the two podcasts has been sitting in the editing suite with Danielle Walker to edit the interviews we have collected.

I have also been interviewed twice myself, once for each podcast, talking about current and future theatrical projects I’m involved in.

I have also had some input regarding the scripts and I also arranged all the interviews with cast members and writer’s for the first podcast.

I have learnt a lot about what editing is like and the patience that is required when listening to literally hours of material.

Being interviewed was a good lesson for me, then listening to, and editing, myself was quite a surreal experience.

I also went and found out information for the second podcast such as the fact that the film A Royal Night Out, which was filmed in Hull last year, was having a special advanced screening on 8th May before going on general release a week later.

I also provided some direction although this wasn’t needed much as the whole team seemed to know everything they were doing anyway so the sum total of my direction was just suggestions about basic presentation.

Hull Commemorating 70th Anniversary of VE Day With Events At Various Locations

Hull is to join other cities across the UK in commemorating the 70th Anniversary of VE Day over this weekend.

The main commemoration event will take place at 9:30 on Friday night when Lord Mayor, Coun Mary Glew will light a commemorative beacon, that will burn for one hour, in Queen Victoria Square.

The Freedom Flame Committee are to hold an invitation only event at Holy Trinity Church on Friday evening with guests including Lady Arabella Stuart-Smith, grand-daughter of Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery and Bill Millin, son of WWII piper John Millin.

Other events will include a WWII Street Party from 10am to 4pm on Saturday at Hull History Centre on Worship Street. Families are invited to bring picnics to the event where there will also be a display of the centre’s extensive archives.

The History Centre is also having free craft and lego activities for children and a WWII play performed by pupils from Chiltern Street School on Saturday.

Another event on Saturday will see a Spitfire give a spectacular 15-minute display over the Humber at 12pm with members of the public encouraged to visit the Marina for a prime view and to hear a few words of remembrance from Coun Glew.

A 1940s themed event will take place in East Park on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. This free event will include live music by the Frank Cleveland Band and Swing Dancers along with free attractions like Donkey Rides, Children’s Rides and Crazy Golf and a competition for anybody in 1940s fancy dress.

Another event, although not council arranged, is a special advanced screening of blockbuster film A Royal Night Out, part of which was filmed in Hull last year. The film, set on VE Day, is being shown at 7.30pm on Friday at Vue cinema.

There is also a wartime display at the History Centre which will be free to visit until the end of June.

Protestors Vent Anger at Council and Government

Protestors from Unite, GMB and both East Yorkshire and Hull against Flouridisation have been protesting on the steps of the guildhall today while a budget meeting was taking place inside.

Patrick Holdsworth of East Yorkshire against Flouride said: “It’s a massive waste of money,

“It will cost £400,000 to set up and then £100,000 a year to maintain,

He continued “They’re targeting 5 to 7 year olds saying that it strengthens tooth enamel but there is no proof of the benefits they say it brings,”

He wants them to take the money it costs and use it to educate both children and adults about dental health instead.

Unite Convenor Pete Schofield said they, and the GMB, were campaigning against austerity cuts that have been forced on the council by a £150M cut in funding from central government.

“We’re protesting because it’s about time the Labour council grew a backbone and made a stand against the Tory government,

“Over the last five years there’s been 2,000 jobs lost and the council have had to start charging for things that were free before like day services, transport and meals at day centres,

He continued “The government have targeted Labour councils and looked after their own like Chelsea council has had a rise in funding while Hull has had a massive cut,

He also went on to say it wasn’t specifically aimed at the government but also the council saying “The chief executive shouldn’t get paid £170,000 it’s far too much,

“Two councilors Jill Kennet and Dean Kirk have actually now set up their own party for the people of Hull,

“It’s about time the council said no to anymore cuts,”

The council now charge £65 a session for day services, £5 each way for transport and about £2.50 for a meal at a day centre as a result of the cutbacks.

Paris trip Final day

The final day of the trip was very long and certainly had its quirks. We started the day by doing all the remaining packing, then unpacking to get cases rearranged and packed again, then unpacking again to get certain things in certain places and repacking everything again before leaving the room to go and wait in reception with Errin and Katie.

After the excitement of the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Company, the Arc De Triumph and the Seine Cruise I certainly just wanted the day to be just as ‘Normal’ as possible as we returned home to reality so we tried to relax before starting the long journey home to good old Hull.

We found a Chinese takeaway serving large portions for a small price for lunch and then left shortly after lunchtime to get to the station to check in, when we got to Paris Nord we found we were a bit early so we had to wait about half an hour before we could check in, at which time we were joined by the rest of the group who had travelled to Paris with us.

Once we were safely through passport control we found a few duty free shops although nowhere near as many as you find in an airport.

The toilets are of quite a high standard in the waiting area it has to be said.

Once we were called to board the Eurostar you could feel the excitement mount among all of us, my friend Kati and her partner were excitedly showing off the engagement ring that he had planted on her finger while we were in Paris and I must say I’m genuinely happy for them both.

On the train we all got comfortably seated and it almost felt like there would be a big cheer as we started moving but there wasn’t one as we all just settled in for the long journey back to England.

The Eurostar is about an hour and a half travelling from Paris to the Channel Tunnel and just before we entered it a voice came over the intercom saying we were about to enter the tunnel and saying we would be in it for about 20 minutes before emerging into England.

True to form we were 20 minutes under the English Channel before reaching English soil which suddenly reset all mobile phones to original settings and suddenly gave me a good signal on my phone so I got many notifications that I hadn’t been able to get before.

The train stopped and dropped off some passengers at Ebbsfleet International station before carrying on to London St. Pancras where we all disembarked. On arriving there it was noted that there was a man sat at a piano there playing Sonata Number 14, otherwise known as Moonlight Sonata, by Ludwig Van Beethoven.

We waited a short while but were ultimately told by the lovely Di Allerston that we could dash to get the next possible train if we wanted rather than waiting for the whole travelling group to come together, so Errin, Katie, Martin and Myself went in search of the next possible train.

We dashed to King’s Cross and I noticed there was a train leaving in a few minutes from Platform 2 that would drop us off at Doncaster so we could get a connecting train to Hull.

We dashed through the crowds to get to the train and just made it, we walked through several carriages but eventually gave up looking for seats as it seemed the train was absolutely crammed full.

Eventually a lady came and checked our tickets and told us we would get to Doncaster at 7:47pm and there would be a 7:55 train from there to Hull.

We stayed where we were stood at the end of the carriage until a few minutes later when the lady who had checked our tickets announced over the intercom to us that there were several seats on carriage D so that was it we were off in a flash making our way to carriage D to sit down.

Upon reaching Doncaster we got off the train which was carrying on to Leeds and Errin and Katie were off like the clappers to get to Platform 1 where the train to Hull was waiting. After a few stops myself, Katie and Martin decided to stand the rest of the way to keep the blood flowing in our legs after being sat down as much as we had been.

We finally got home to Hull at 8:58 and all went our separate ways.

The trip to Paris has been ultimately very rewarding and I can only hope that whoever reads these entries in my blog finds them enjoyable and informative.

Homeless service under threat of closure

Six homeless people have said they, and many others, will have nowhere to go if a homeless shelter is closed down at the end of this month.

Hull Homeless and Rootless Project (Hull HARP) is due to close at the end of this month due to a lack of funding but service users want it open because it’s their only means of getting a bed for the night.

Gary Haagensen said; “I came out of prison on 3rd February after doing three months, I had two nights on the streets and the only reason I’m not on the streets now is because of this place, there’s nowhere else I can go!”

Chris Sever was in prison for four and a half months and was released on 19th December; “I had nowhere else to go so I came here,”

Hubert Lawanson was released from prison on 27th January and came to the night hostel for the first time tonight and also said there was nowhere else he could go.

The homeless problem, however, reaches much further than just people who have just come out of prison.

David Wilkinson became homeless on 19th November because his benefits were put under sanction and he found himself unable to pay his rent and bills, he said; “I haven’t got anywhere else I can go, I’m not well so they put me up in the sick room here;”

John Daddy lost his council flat in 2013, he was sofa surfing for a while and then just sleeping rough and has been going to stay at Dock House since it reopened in the run up to Christmas but again he says there’ll be nowhere for him to go if it closes down again.

Malcolm Geoffrey Stork said he’s been let down by his probation officer who was apparently more interested in “Having a cup of coffee;” than helping him with a housing application.”

Mr Daddy also said; “They need to set up a bonding process again so people can get help with paying a bond to secure accommodation.

Mr Sever said it “Winds me up more than anything else;” when he sees an empty council property.

A member of Dock House staff said he couldn’t speak about the projects current situation but someone would be able to speak to the manager the next morning.

Mr Wilkinson also said that it offers help such as getting regulars into hostels, an outreach service which sees staff going out to give hot drinks to people who are out on the streets at night and a breakfast club for people who have been on the streets overnight.

While I was there talking to them a man arrived in a white van and handed out 5 meals from a fish and chip shop, including sausage and chips, pattie and chips and fish and chips.

As a previously homeless person myself I know how much these people are suffering, almost feeling crushed by life itself, something needs to be done to save this service and very quickly.

Martin Green Presentation

City of Culture company Chief Executive Martin Green has delivered a presentation of his previous work and ongoing work to students, lecturers and officials of Hull School of Art and Design in the Horncastle Building.

Featuring much on his experience as Executive Producer for the opening and closing ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Mr Green laid out extremely impressive credentials to a captivated audience as to why he is the man to deliver the City of Culture celebrations in 2017.

“Ceremonies show who we were, who we are and, most importantly, who we wish to be,” Mr Green told the audience.

He showed videos of the opening ceremony for the London Olympics and the Beijing Olympics as well as videos of the preparations for the opening ceremony in 2012.

Being both engaging and entertaining he explained, sometimes in quite comedic ways, how he helped deliver on promises that had been made about the games, he also spoke of his involvement with the o2 Arena.

He then carried on by explaining about what is expected for Hull 2017 saying “We’re not at the end of the road, we’re at the beginning of it, we’re the gateway to Yorkshire,”

Mr Green also said that a volunteering initiative will begin at the start of 2016 because of the size and complexity of such an operation.

Taking questions from the audience he continued to engage with everybody there and still had time, despite his busy schedule, to talk to people afterwards, both inside and outside the building.

One man from the south bank said; “When Hull won the bid I was dreading it, I thought typical, more money to Hull and still nothing for us, but after today I’m actually genuinely looking forward to it,”

Mr Green also explained that Hull will do City of Culture in a unique way because it is a unique place.

“I believe culture can move mountains,

“The bid was good, it won, we’re curating what is in the bid, that’s our central act,” He concluded.

HSAD Commission for Green Port Hull

Hull School of Art and Design (HSAD) hosted a launch for their commission for artwork to be shown at the Siemens development at Green Port Hull.

ABP Projects Manager, Humber Laura Morrish and ABP Engineering Manager Paul Hatley gave a presentation laying out the size of the plan for the development which will cover 57 Hectares, the equivalent of 130 football pitches, and will see 7.5 Hectares of land reclaimed from Alexandra Dock.

The site will include a facility for the manufacture, assembly, testing shipment and on-going maintenance of offshore turbines which will be more than double the size of the wind turbines that we see inland.

The commission for HSAD is for 6 sculptures that will be placed along a public right of way at the north end of the site which will be placed on concrete plinths which are 2 meters in diameter and raised 450 millimeters.

There will also be 3 exhibition boards measuring 5.9 meters by 2.9 meters and 4 information boards.

Students from HSAD are expected to come up with their individual design ideas. The students will visit the site on 9th February and will have time from March to May to work up their designs before issuing them on May 8th.

A review panel will choose the design on 26th May and students will then have June to October to produce final designs and then October to March to actually prepare the artwork before it is installed in April 2016.

There was also a presentation from Spearfish, who students will work alongside if their design is successful. Spearfish were started in Manchester as a small artistic company but these days are internationally known for their institution of the Eurocultured Festival and the artistic workshops they offer which are delivered all over Europe.

After the main presentations and a short break there was a split into 5 break out groups to facilitate candidates with information they need regarding the work space and what is expected of them.

The themed break out groups included themes of Project Purpose, Benefits and Spin offs, Place and Site, Material Scope, Connections, Audience and Interaction and Ephemeral Pieces.

After about half an hour the break out groups came back together to give their feedback which included discussion about potential artwork, artists maybe working together and about research needed like a public consultation with the residents of Victoria Dock who will be affected by this installation.

ABP also provided drawings of the plans for the development and also stats and facts such as the fact that they handle around one quarter of the UK’s seaborne trade and contribute £5.6 Billion to the economy.

Rosie Millard, Hull and City of Culture

When Hull won the bid for City of Culture 2017 Rosie Millard could have been forgiven for climbing to the top of the building she was in at the time and screaming about it with sheer excitement.

She may have been born and raised in Wimbledon but she has enduring memories of her adopted city from her time studying English and Drama at University of Hull.

Now talking to me in the bar area of the Holiday Inn on the marina she cuts a very relaxed figure but one which has a burning desire bubbling just under the surface. It is a desire to see Hull as a place of growth and economic stability in 2017 and beyond.

Upon being asked how the plans are going so far for Hull’s year in the spotlight she says “The plans are going very well so far.

She continues to tell me “The year will be broken up into 4 quarters based on Hull, the first quarter will be Made in Hull, the second is Roots and Routes, the third is Freedom and will tie in with the Freedom Festival and the final quarter will be based on Quirkey and Hullness.

Going more in depth she says that the first quarter is all about things that have come from Hull such as bridges and works of art. She also explains that the second quarter is more about Hull’s heritage, what it’s known for and why people want to come here because it’s removed enough from the glare of London and has its own identity.

The third quarter is to be based around the exploits of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery and the final quarter will be celebrating Hull’s quirks like cream telephone boxes.

“We’ve looked at the bid to see what made it so strong and why Hull won and now we’re expanding on it.

Telling me that it will be totally unique and will not resemble anything like what places like Liverpool and Derry did in their year in the spotlight she says “It will be great that all the events will only be seen in Hull.

Continuing with great excitement she says “UK City of Culture is for places that have had economic difficulty but now you can see the growth that Hull is attracting.

“We won’t build a hotel in Hull but I would think that somebody will now.”

I asked her what she thinks to what’s happening at Hull Truck Theatre with the announcement of them receiving an 8th bailout in 4 years, she replied “Many contemporary theatres are regularly in trouble and it was always going to be difficult moving from Spring Street but Mark Babych is a great artistic director and I’m sure he’ll get it back on an even keel.”

She also tells me that Rufus Sewell is the man behind the recently announced deal between the National Theatre and Hull and says it’s great that they will bring more great shows to venues like Hull New Theatre.

She says that having Hull City in the Premier League has also brought growth and she thinks Steve Bruce is a great manager and that he will get them away from the relegation zone.

Asking her about rugby league she answers with great purpose “I think it’s fantastic that Hull has 2 Super League teams. Rugby is very strong and important in Hull and it’s great that there are 2 teams who are so connected to different areas of the city.”

She also reminds me of Hull Stingrays Ice Hockey team saying “My son loves Ice Hockey.”

Asking her about Kardomah 94 and what might a small place like that bring to the party Rosie tells me “It has a lot of potential, Malcolm Scott has got some great plans there like a projection from across the road onto the outside of the building.”

Mentioning her comments about how she thought “Grafton Street was the coolest place to live in Hull” when she was studying at the university she says “Yes it was, with Paul Heaton at one end and Roland Gift at the other.”

I ask her what she thinks to the culture here now and if it is as exciting now as it was in 1984 and she assures me it’s every bit as exciting now and more.

She also tells me that when she was studying here that there was nothing on the marina and says it is now an amazing place.

The overriding fact that has come out of our conversation seems very much to be that City of Culture is about engaging with the people here and not from anywhere else, Rosie Millard is one very energetic cog in what appears to be a very well oiled machine, and with her boundless enthusiasm for the job at hand I believe Hull really can’t go far wrong.