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.

 

 

 

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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

The Tattershall Castle, Review

Local writer Catherine Derrick launched her latest production The Tattershall Castle at Kardomah 94 this evening.

The story mainly revolves around two sweethearts Jean Brown and James Palmer who are torn apart by the outbreak of World War 2 which causes the young man to go off and fight in the RAF.

The young couple stay in touch by sending letters but then disaster strikes as Jean’s house is bombed in the blitz and flattened, rendering Jean and her mum homeless which ultimately leads to them moving to stay with Jean’s nan in Pickering away from the bombing.

At the other end is James, love lorn and pining for Jean, upon seeing what’s left of her house when he returns on leave from Biggin Hill and the desperate fight in the sky James believes Jean has been killed in the blitz.

In the middle is James’ father, an unscrupulous, hard, wealthy man who believes Jean is nowhere near good enough for his son and heir apparent, who lies to both Jean, telling her he will pass on her new address to James so he can write to her, and James by confirming his worst fears saying Jean was killed by a bomb on Hessle Road.

You are immediately drawn in at the start as singer Carolyne Storey sings a wartime medley to set the tone as we are swept back to wartime Hull.

The early scenes with Jean, played by the thoroughly compelling Sarah Hicks, and James, played by the engaging Jack Holt, are well choreographed and get you hoping and wishing for the young couple.

Mrs Brown, played by Jackie Rogers, is another very likable character and the scene of the bombing when their house is hit is very well acted by both Hicks and Rogers as the desperation and panic of the blitz is brought to life with their actions, facial expressions and speech.

James’ father Mr Palmer, played by Anthony Musgrave, is a very well acted lowlife who clearly only cares about his bank balance and isn’t bothered whoever he upsets, including his own flesh and blood. He is so horrible that he draws boos from the audience when they see him on stage.

Jean’s brother Tommy, who is portrayed by David Dale, is another very believable character who clearly cares very deeply for his sister, his part is very well pitched so when he almost comes to blows with James later, believing James had dumped Jean for another woman, there is no question that his character would react like he does.

The barmaid from The Minerva, James’ favourite watering hole, is the character played by Lynda Harrison who gives the whole production a genuine element of fun as it moves into the 1960s.

The cast is completed by Chrissy, played by Catherine Rose Senior, she is Jean’s daughter and, in a beautifully subtle sideline, is the one who ultimately brings Jean and James back together after James’ father and Jean’s husband have died.

There is of course a twist at the end that you absolutely don’t see coming in a masterful piece of writing by the writer/director.

It is a very good production, well written, well acted and well directed.

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A Homeless and Root-Less Project

The Breakfast Club at Dock House was much the same as it has been all week with the same faces and myself, Ash and Dave serving the food and drink as usual.

Halfway through the Breakfast Club I got told to go out with Outreach worker Diane to pick up some bedding that was being donated by a lady who is moving house soon so that was another new thing for me to do.

When we got back to Dock House the Breakfast Club had finished and all the clients had left so it was back to jobs like sweeping and mopping the room where we serve the food and cleaning the kitchen, washing up and putting the pots away, it really doesn’t stop when the last person leaves.

Diane then took Dave away to go to the Aspire Project and, after they had left, Ash and myself set about the main job of the day that was reaching towards a critical level.

Our main job was to do as much weeding as we could manage out the back and down the side of Dock House as it was fast becoming overgrown. What made the job more difficult was that we were trying very much to pull up the roots to stop them growing back which proved very difficult in the majority of the weeds we pulled up.

Another problem down the side is the size of the bushes that had grown from the other side through the barriers, all we had tools-wise was a small trowel which we had to use to cut down the branches of the bushes which were growing over our pathway down the side of the building.

The further we went through the forest of weeds and bushes that had developed the more it felt like a battle that we were having to fight with a silent enemy.

After a stop for lunch we went back outside to keep battling our way through the job we were doing and the muscles and shoulders and backs ached more and more but kept getting punished as we kept going.

Eventually we welcomed some dark clouds and a good rainfall which heralded the end of the weeding for the day, although we were upset that we haven’t yet finished the job which we hope to return to on Tuesday.

Over lunchtime and then progressing into the afternoon Ash tried to explain to me what Sir Alan Turing achieved at Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code during World War 2, and his subsequent influence on modern computing which then led to the production of things like Java Script and Google Chrome apparently, that was a lot of fun having it explained to me by teacher Ash.

Yes I have had a good long soak in the bath before writing this, and yes my shoulders and back are still aching but I wish I didn’t have a day off tomorrow because I want to be helping the homeless as much as I possibly can!!

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.