“I mean, I’d go and see that show. But this isn’t that. Not just that.”
Boff Whalley adds: “The bottom line for everything we do is that we’re going ‘here’s lots of ideas and philosophy and thoughts and politics, but actually, it’s entertainment first and foremost.”
Time spent with Whalley and Bye is never less than thought-provoking, entertaining and worthwhile; audiences are in for a treat.
Boff Whalley and Daniel Bye are collaborating, not for the first time, on a new show called These Hills Are Ours.
The show was ready to get, as it were, up and running over a year ago. In fact, it was pretty much about to hit the road just as the pandemic put paid to live theatre.
The publicity shots for These Hill Are Ours feature a couple of blokes – Whalley and Bye – in running gear and covered head to toe in mud; hence the disclaimer from Bye that this isn’t a show only about running.
Over the course of an hour talking about the show, it becomes clear that These Hills Are Ours is going to be about an awful lot more.
“I want the show to serve as a reminder to people that when they go out into the countryside, whether they are running or walking, they are walking in the footsteps of a history and a culture of people who have opened up those paths for all of us.
“Anyone who goes walking in the Peak District for example, I’d love it if they knew that a time not that long ago, you couldn’t and I’d love it if they knew where that came from and why they now can, especially in today’s climate,” says Whalley.
Bye chips in: “That’s particularly important, that we’re telling this story now, when a lot of hard won victories feel fragile.
“Nye Bevin said the NHS will survive as long as there are people with the strength to fight for it and I think that can be applied to just about any improvement that has been gained by progressive movements in any sphere.”
Rousing stuff. Bye and Whalley were first brought together in 2009 when the latter wrote Play Up, Play Up, a theatre piece performed as part of the I Love West Leeds Festival. Bye was brought in to direct and it was a happy creative partnership.
Bye is a well regarded theatre maker whose solo hit shows include The Price of Everything, Going Viral and the hit 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show Arthur, which saw his baby son take centre stage.
Whalley was the songwriter and member of anarchist pop band Chumbawamba, still best remembered for their world-conquering hit Tubthumping. He’s since become a highly regarded writer of musicals for theatre.
They are both a little obsessed with running in the great outdoors.
Bye says: “I was never overawed by meeting someone who had a top ten single, but when I found out his 10k time I just thought ‘I am in the presence of greatness’.”
Of his 10k race time Whalley says: “It was about 32 minutes.”
Bye adds: “It was 31mins 50 seconds. I’ve gone sub 38 minutes twice and I was really pleased.”
They need steering back to These Hills Are Ours. They are both obsessed with running and are socially engaged, socially conscious theatre makers. How to combine the two?
Bye says: “We started with the idea of running from the centre of a town or a city to the peak overlooking that city. It was a way of exploring the relationship between urban and rural and the nature of that journey.
“Usually people drive to a rural place, go for a walk then drive back to the urban place but there’s something interesting and different that happens on that journey.
“It’s also an exploration of the fact that we’re allowed to go to rural spaces because of things like the Kinder trespass and other historical acts of protest.”
The Kinder Mass Trespass was an act of wilful trespass by ramblers and members of the Young Communist League on Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District in 1932. It was designed to highlight the fact that walkers in England and Wales were being denied access to areas of open country.
Bye adds: “There are plenty of other places like that in the country where thousands of people trespassed over the course of many years until the laws of access gradually changed, so it’s a celebration of the fact that we are allowed to do that.”
Whalley says: “It’s also about the idea that we live in times when we are bombarded by digital technology and our notion of landscape and commonality and doing things together has changed.
“We think that includes looking at a screen when in fact there’s this great groundswell of people doing things with other people – going out walking, running and cycling, gardening, sewing and baking. All these activities are booming, because people are running away from just being on call 24 hours a day.”
Bye says: “The show is just a mechanism for exploring the countryside. It’s about the transition along the way and the urge to escape 21st century life or your difficult childhood or the constraints of class. It’s a celebration of what’s been won for you by the people who went before you.
"It’s about all of those things and running is just our way of celebrating that.”
A story of escape and celebration
In story and in song, These Hills Are Ours is about escaping the city, escaping your past, the restrictions upbringing or class or politics and a celebration of wild places and our freedom to roam them.
The national tour of Boff Whalley and Daniel Bye’s show takes in most of the country and at each stop they will invite an audience to join them for a daily run.
They will be stopping off at St Wilfrid’s Church, Harrogate Theatre, July 13, 14. For details and tickets visit harrogatetheatre.co.uk
York Theatre Royal, July 16. Tickets and details yorktheatreroyal.co.uk