Here are some of the highlights of Hull's annual Freedom Festival

If I am entirely honest, there comes a point in every year when I think: “Will this be the year I tire of doing ‘this’?”

Eliza Carthy, above, will be performing material from her 2020 album Restitute.
Eliza Carthy, above, will be performing material from her 2020 album Restitute.

It’s yet to happen and I’m delighted to report that this year the question hasn’t even crossed my mind.

‘This’ is the bi-annual round up of the theatre cultural highlights heading our way I write for Culture at the end of Summer and again at the start of the new year.

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Every year for more than I care to remember, I pour through the newly minted theatre brochures of our region, searching the nooks and crannies for hidden gems behind the big shows you can’t miss and bring the news of the plays and musicals heading to our stages.

A Square World by Daryl Beeton, at Hull Truck as part of this year's Freedom Festival.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing the theatrical highlights of the coming season in Culture, but out East, Hull Truck has stolen a march on the general round-up by virtue of the highly regarded Freedom Festival, which is already underway.

Before we get to that, though, a word on why this year the question of growing bored of writing this kind of piece isn’t even going to raise it’s head in 2021.

I mean, it’s obvious really, but a year ago there were so many theatres staring down the barrel. Emergency funds, staff being laid off, shows being staged and cancelled, it really is down to ingenuity, resourcefulness and sheer will that we still have a theatre industry standing at all –swaying, absolutely – but standing.

It’s why I am champing at the bit to bring you the autumn round up. Mark this, though, when I start telling you about the shows coming to, or being created in, the region, do try and get to them. Our theatres really do need you and your support now more than ever.

Of course some are still nervous about heading out, but my few trips to the theatre in the past year have been by some margin the safest times I’ve ventured outside. Sitting in a distanced, mask-wearing auditorium is a far less likely place to get ill than standing in a queue at a till. Just an observation.

So, to Hull, a city that has been reinventing itself for at least a decade as a place that understands the value, power and worth of art.

Before Hull was named the UK’s City of Culture in 2017, there was the Freedom Festival. Born in 2013, the festival had actually already been running for six years as part of an annual celebration of William Wilberforce. It had launched in 2007 as a commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Since then it has continued to grow, with over 100,000 people taking part in the artistic celebrations.

There are some spectacular pieces of work in this year’s festival, not least the vigil, a performative installation which sees someone lifted into a bespoke structure on top of Hull College Building at sunrise and sunset every day for a year.

One of the important aspects of the Freedom Festival is the partners around the city, including the famous theatre Hull Truck.

Artistic director Mark Babych says: “As always, we are proud partners of the Freedom Festival. It’s a vital part of the Hull’s cultural ecology and performances always go down an absolute storm, I’m sure this year will be no different.”

The performances coming to Hull as part of the Freedom Festival, which will serve as a kind of curtain raiser to the coming season include a gig by Eliza Carthy.

The Yorkshire-born folk artist, twice nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize who was awarded an MBE in 2014 will perform material from her album Restitute.

Preceding the concert is the Fringe First-winning show Drink Rum with Expats by Improv group Sh!t Theatre. The group will tell the story of how, celebrating their final year as Europeans, two of the group were invited to European Capital of Culture Malta in 2018 where they were commissioned to make a show to be performed a single time in a pub in Malta. This resulting show is about that show.

The Freedom Festival at Hull Truck begins with A Square World, a piece of theatre for three to six year olds, the non-verbal story uses simple design to create a world of imagination.

Babych says: “After a difficult year it will be wonderful to experience comedy and laughter back where it belongs – in front of a live audience.” Speaking of which, some details of the coming season have also been announced, a season which aims to ‘put Hull stories at its heart’.

Headline productions include two home-produced shows; Lone Flyer, celebrating one of Hull’s greats, pilot Amy Johnson, and its highly anticipated Christmas show – a brand new staging of children’s classic, The Railway Children. The new programme will see the Ferensway theatre increase its capacity to welcome more audiences back.

Babych says: “The programme also builds momentum ahead of the theatre marking its 50th anniversary in 2022, with plans to launch a special 12-month programme of work which celebrates Hull Truck Theatre’s journey from 1972 to the present, and asks how the theatre can continue to inspire future generations.

“We’re so excited to be staging The Railway Children which we have wanted to create for our Christmas audiences for a long time now. We cannot wait to see families back sharing what might be their first live theatre together for some time. Throughout the closure period we all realised how much live theatre meant to us when we could no longer experience it.”

Freedom Festival at Hull Truck:

A Square World, August 27, 28. A story of friends who enjoy the same routine day after day, each day is the same until an unexpected change is forced upon just one of them.

Drink Rum with Expats, September 2, 3, 4. Becca and Louise got invited to the European Capital of Culture in Malta. They went to drink rum with Brits abroad but found a lot more than they expected.

Eliza Carthy Restitute Live, Sept 7. Carthy and her band play tracks from her first solo album of traditional music in 14 years.

For details of Hull Freedom Festival freedomfestival.co.uk