Theatre makers who take stories out into the world

Part of the performance of Memorial at Grassington Festival
Part of the performance of Memorial at Grassington Festival
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Slung Low theatre company is making a name for itself internationally – but is committed to Yorkshire. Nick Ahad discovers why.

“We create little moments of wonder,” says Alan Lane.

It sounds like the sort of thing you might expect to hear said by a hippy outside a tent in a festival field – Alan Lane is anything but – he is a pragmatist and categorically not away with the fairies.

You couldn’t run a theatre company at the pace and level he has managed Slung Low over the past 12 months and be anything but a practically minded artist.

So, those moments of wonder. It might sound a little highfalutin’ – unless you’ve experienced the work Lane makes with his theatre company Slung Low. If you have, you’ll understand that little moments of wonder are exactly what the group can create.

Although Slung Low is a theatre company, it rarely – if ever – performs its work inside theatres. You are much more likely to find them taking an audience, literally, around a town on an adventure. In Hull with the Imove project Mapping the City, they turned the whole city into a canvas and with what might be called “interventions” created moments where the audience stood and watched the whole city come alive. The only appropriate word to describe their faces? They watched with wonder.

It was Lane’s ability, along with the other members of Slung Low, to create little moments of wonder, that prompted five of Yorkshire’s festivals to commission them to make a series of works to present around the county. Converging Paths is the name of five shows – separate but linked – that are being performed through the year at Coastival in Scarborough, Grassington Arts Festival, Swaledale Festival, Ryedale Festival and at the Harrogate International Festival tonight and tomorrow.

Based on a novel, The Ground Remembers by Matthew David Scott, each of the five shows take their inspiration from a small section of the book and can be viewed on their own.

“If you see all of them, you’ll get a complete story, but you don’t need to have seen all of them to understand what is going on,” says Lane.

“They are each stand-alone pieces and audiences can enjoy them as pieces in their own right.”

Which is exactly what audiences have been doing – in Grassington, demand for the show was such that the only seemingly fair way for people to get tickets was for Slung Low to operate a raffle.

The company is one of the major success stories of Yorkshire theatre.

Built on little more than energy, belief, and an enormous amount of sacrifice (Lane and his wife Lucy Hind spent some of their honeymoon fund on a show), they have become a small theatre company with a now global reputation.

The company has recently returned from Singapore, where it had been invited to the Singapore Arts Festival to present the final piece in its series of vampire stories. The first incarnation was presented in a Bradford multi-storey car park in 2007.

In between travelling to Singapore and presenting the five different shows at Yorkshire festivals, the company was also invited to take its Knowledge Emporium to the National Theatre – a caravan made into a 1950s sweet shop, where people can buy sweets with knowledge.

“Is what we do theatre? It’s a question we are asked because of the nature of our work because of where it takes place,” says Lane. “In a way it doesn’t matter – we tell stories.”

Telling stories the Slung Low way

Pandemic: The final show in the They Only Come at Night series, featuring a vampire story, presented in May as part of the Singapore Arts Festival.

Converging Paths: Swaledale Festival: Presented at Richmond Castle, the show saw an audience of 400 watching the action around the castle.

Memorial: Harrogate International Festival, to July 14.

Story Book: Ryedale Festival: Pickering Castle 28 July 8.30pm.

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