Slung Low theatre company is bringing its interactive Christmas show for children home to Yorkshire. Arts Editor Nick Ahad reports.
IT is cold outside. Really cold. It is raining outside and Alan Lane is in a series of former railway arches in Holbeck, south of Leeds City Centre.
Alan Lane is wearing a kilt.
Alan Lane always wears a kilt at the Slung Low Christmas Fayre. It’s a tradition.
The railway arches are now HUB, the Holbeck Underground Ballroom, a place that has become something of an epicentre of good theatre coming out of the city over the last few years.
The HUB is a base for Lane’s theatre company Slung Low, but it is so much more than that. It is a place where young theatre companies around the city can get support and rehearsal space. It is rough and ready. There’s no heating and the floor remains the stone slabs that were in place when it served as a set of working railway arches. It does, however, have an Aga, a vegetable patch and an outdoor toilet dedicated to a theatre critic who has made some barbed comments about the company in the past. The people who run the place have a sense of humour.
Today inside the HUB it is warm because it is full of the arts community of West Yorkshire – playwrights have stalls, Ossett Ukelele Philharmonia are playing, as are a brass band. Lane’s in-laws are serving hot chocolate with rum – the rum is supposedly optional, but few leave the stall selling it with a ‘virgin’ hot chocolate.
It is truly a community venue and over the past few years the Slung Low Christmas Fayre has become as much a fixture in the arts calendar as pantomime.
Lane’s kilt is part of that tradition and he sports it proudly as he reads the middle section of a three part reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The first section was read by respected Yorkshire actor Dominic Gately and the final instalment came from Yorkshire choreographer Lucy Hind, responsible for choreographing sections of the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.
Everyone gets involved.
Immediately after the Christmas Fayre was brought to a close on Saturday, preparations began for a new venture for Yorkshire, something which Lane hopes will become another Slung Low tradition.
The company has gained a national reputation over the past decade for creating work that is theatrical, but exists outside of theatre spaces. They launched themselves into public consciousness with a performance of a vampire story that took place in a Bradford car park – that show went on to be performed in a shopping centre in Singapore. Since then they have staged shows at the Royal Armouries and from the inside of a caravan that set up shop on the steps of the National Theatre.
Now, they are back home.
Last year the company was commissioned by The Barbican in London to create one of their uniquely Slung Low shows.
Lane came up with a typically adventurous idea.
“We take a group of kids and there’s an evil professor who has released a smoke into the air that takes all the Christmas out of Christmassy things,” he says.
“The kids have to track him down to his laboratory and stop him – and they have got 59 minutes to do it. Along the way they meet an elf, a fairy stuck up a tree and a snowman who isn’t singing Christmas songs, but summery songs.
“It is a big, Christmas adventure for kids who are six and over and it is an enormous amount of fun for everyone involved – including us. With a younger audience they immediately go with the story. They immediately invest in the fact that someone is trying to steal Christmas spirit and they go ‘yes let’s go’ and it’s very exciting when they do that.”
Bringing the show to Doncaster’s newest theatre, CAST, which opened this summer, is a homecoming for Slung Low in more ways than one.
“We did it at the Barbican last year for a month,” says Lane. “They wanted something for Christmas, for kids and we want to start making work for a younger audience, so it all came together beautifully.
“When CAST first opened earlier this year we were asked to perform a piece at the opening of the venue, so it’s great to come back here and work on this piece with them.
“We really love the venue and the people who run it and we’re just really pleased to get the chance to do this show here back home in Yorkshire.”
Slung Low first worked at The Barbican in 2008, when the company with Samuel Beckett Prize. The award funded Helium, a series of performances featuring the trademark promenade style of Slung Low, in which the audience moves through the action. Helium was a popular success at the theatre – and put Slung Low in the minds of London theatre makers.
Staging 59 Minutes to Save Christmas in the festive season in Doncaster is something to make Lane even more excitable than usual.
“You get to save Christmas four times a day in the run up to the actual day,” he says.
“By the time Christmas actually comes round, I have gone slightly insane with it.”
Festive fun for all the family
Originally commissioned by The Barbican and performed in the theatre’s foyer last Christmas, Slung Low’s 59 Minutes to Save Christmas takes its audience on an adventure through the CAST theatre itself.
Audience members wear headphones through which they hear the actors and follow the story in a bid to save Christmas in less than an hour. Running from December, 14-23 the show is aimed at children six-years-old and over – and adults are welcome, mainly because they might be helpful getting things from high shelves.
Tickets are on sale via Doncaster Ticket Office on 01302 303 959 and from www.castindoncaster.com