Emerging from a 14-month pandemic-enforced closure over the past fortnight we’ve shared the stories of how the Leeds Playhouse and Sheffield Theatres have roared back into the spotlight and today it’s Hull Truck on to which the stage light lands.
Like Leeds and Sheffield, Hull Truck has thrown its support behind regional talent, helping the industry close to home get back on its feet. The theatre marks the reopening of the building on Monday next week with the first of three monologues to be staged at the venue over the coming month. Importantly, two of the three monologues are new commissions by the theatre and mark a major milestone as the public returns for the first time since last March.
The two new commissions touch on globally important issues – but are resolutely rooted in Hull.
The trilogy launches on Monday with BAFTA-award winning Julie Hesmondhalgh starring in Ian Kershaw’s The Greatest Play in the History of the World. Hesmondhalgh is perhaps best known for the role of Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street and is currently on screen in BBC One drama The Pact.
The acclaimed one-woman show won The Stage Edinburgh Award, and was a 2018 Fringe sell-out show in Edinburgh. The three monologues will be performed to a 25 percent capacity audience, but the venue has embraced what The Apprentice contestants would call the ‘opportunity of the challenges of the last year’ and will use technology to also stream the performances to a worldwide audience.
Hesmondhalgh says: “We started this adventure at the wonderful Hull Truck, where we rehearsed and filmed in the week leading up to the theatres reopening before opening to our first live audience at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. I can’t tell you how fantastic it has been to be in front of a live, albeit masked and socially distanced audience. I’m used to the masks now and you can still feel the joy and experience the deep listening silence of an engaged room.”
The monologues also feature a world premiere from Hull-born playwright and daughter of one of the city’s most famous adopted sons, Janet Plater. Following her father Alan, whose plays enjoyed performances to Hull home audiences, Plater’s Hull and High Water arrives in July. Starring John Middleton, known for his 21-year tenure as vicar Ashley Thomas in Emmerdale, the play tells the story of Frank Piddock, a man living with dementia who is on the run from his care home and hitches his way around Hull.
He says: “I feel rather honoured to be in such prestigious company and I’m delighted it’s with such a lovely theatre company and in such a lovely place. I’m very fond of Hull – my youngest son went to university here and I got to know it and the people well. It is its own special place and the play that Janet has written celebrates that fact.
“An audience is what makes this a shared endeavour. It will and must change from night to night, depending on the interaction between me and them. It’s what we’re all been starved of for the past year and for Hull Truck to ask me to get back to it is just superb.”
The third monologue sees former Hull Truck artistic associate Amanda Huxtable return to the venue – her Abigail’s Party was a hit at the theatre in a pre-pandemic world.
She is in the director’s chair for another premiere, Everything I Own, written by Daniel Ward and starring Gabriel Paul.
Huxtable, who was also at the helm of one of the monologues making up the opening-up production of Decades at Leeds Playhouse, says: “We’re going back into shops, back into bars, back into places of worship – we’re going back with each other and we’re going to have to take time with that and be gentle and kind.
"While some people can’t wait, others will be a bit more worried, so we’ve got to make sure we take care of everybody. I’ve had the privilege of being back in an auditorium and it was really quite moving. To be back and see that space ready for audiences, ready to tell stories – I’m just looking forward to seeing audiences in that space, laughing, crying and sharing together; it’s what a live performance is all about.”
Everything I Own tells the story of Errol, whose father has died from Covid and sees him sorting through his old playlists, sparking a musical journey.
Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych says: “We’re absolutely delighted to have such a high calibre of shows for our reopening. Julie, John and Gabriel are outstanding actors and the three monologues are unique and incredibly powerful in their own way. It will be momentous to see audiences back in the theatre and the fact that we can livestream the shows and welcome new audiences to Hull Truck is a wonderful thing.”
It is likely, as it has been for theatres that have already seen people through the doors, to be an emotional return. There have been worries throughout the theatre industry over the past year about how this moment might ever arrive.
Janthi Mills-Ward, executive director at Hull Truck, says: “Like for so many venues around the country, it’s been an incredibly difficult year and we’re so pleased that we can finally – safely – welcome audiences back to Hull Truck. The support of the local community has been invaluable in the last year and we hope that support will continue as we reopen.”
A trio of modern monologues
The Greatest Play in the History of the World: A man wakes in the middle of the night to discover the world has stopped – and he’s being watched from across the street by a woman in a Bowie T-Shirt. June 7-12.
Everything I Own: Errol listens to his dead father’s playlist, drinks rum to his memory and takes a trip through his life. June 17-26.
Hull and High Water: Frank Piddock is on the run, hitching his way around Hull, each landmark sparking a memory and a joke. July 1 to 10.
For more details and to book tickets visit hulltruck.co.uk