Last year ended on a pretty good note for one of Yorkshire’s most innovative and applauded theatre companies. They might not be as well known as say Northern Broadsides, but when it comes to commitment to the community, Badapple is up there with the best.
And there were celebrations all round when, last November, the Arts Council announced it was awarding just over £28,000 for forthcoming environmentally-focused projects by the company.
This year there is further cause for celebration with the company having clocked up 21 years of appearing in venues so varied that it would take the next few pages to describe them – everything from village halls to back rooms in pubs, barns, churches and even to aircraft hangers.
It all started in the late 1990s when it was set up by two determined women. One was Kate Bramley, who was for several years a Hull Truck Theatre associate director, and her close friend Ruth Paton, who is a Hull University drama graduate scenic designer. Both knew the origins of Hull Truck very well – the company got its name because it would load costumes, scenery and actors into one large van, and drive off to venues all over the city and beyond.
Kate (now artistic director) recalls that the first show that Badapple experimentally produced was destined for the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “We had this sort of mission statement, which sounds very grand, doesn’t it?” she says, “that we were going to offer a newly-written biography-based drama of the highest possible quality. So it seemed natural that the first was all about the heroic pioneer aviatrix Amy Johnson. After all, she was not only an international figure, but also – very importantly – came from Hull.
“As for taking it out to be scrutinised by Edinburgh audiences, well, with hindsight, I suppose we were aiming very high indeed. We had brass neck I suppose, but we were young and idealistic and we felt we were filling a big gap in the market.”
Today, Kate and Badapple may be 21 years older, but the idealism and the energy remains.
Edinburgh, it has to be said, was a runaway triumph, and the response fuelled what followed. There were plays about Raymond Chandler, the famous American novelist, who created the detective Philip Marlowe, and Marilyn Monroe, the tragically doomed movie star, and also global warming, called Fighting the Tide. The latter was well before its time and is due revisiting in light of ongoing events.
The company is based in Green Hammerton, the village that is conveniently set on the road between Harrogate and York, and – far from concentrating solely on Yorkshire – tours to “non-theatre spaces” nationally. They first earned their spurs by taking productions to local venues, realised what an electric effect they had and what a warm response they got, and then started going further afield.
Badapple blossomed and the same compact nucleus of people are involved. It’s a small company of performers with just a few people involved in administration and organisation. Badapple is “theatre on your doorstep”, a phrase that Kate uses a lot and which is an apt description. They are, in effect, the successor to the Victorian theatre troupes – probably best typified by the one in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby – who would take their productions anywhere. A place where they could set up a stage, hang up a backcloth and find a space to change into their costumes. Many of these troupes, which were hugely popular in Yorkshire and the North, were dubbed “barnstormers”, for that is exactly what they were. They played one night and moved on the next.
“If you had to sum our philosophy up in a few words, it would be that we are dedicated entirely to bringing quality music, drama and comedy to small halls and local theatres, because we passionately believe that there is an audience for what you’d call simply ‘a good night out’, without all the kerfuffle of having to plan the evening well in advance” says Kate.
“More often than not, the ‘big theatre’ is miles away so, put simply, we take the show to them. It’s been done for centuries, and if it worked so well for Nicholas Nickleby while he was with the Vincent Crummles company, we’ve proved that it can work pretty well for us. It is very much a ‘community event’ and the audience is at the very heart of the show.” Recent years have seen Badapple establishing a wide fan base in the South-West, the Midlands and as far away as Aberdeen, as well as in Yorkshire.
This is no ordinary touring, for they don’t visit somewhere overnight and then go on the road again. They rent a space, perhaps a cottage, and use it as their base, so that they can travel off to the surrounding venues and then return to their temporary home after the show.
If it sounds at all haphazard, it isn’t. You might be sitting in a village hall somewhere but what you will get will be up there with West End standards of performance, lighting and design – and at a fraction of the cost.
Kate was born in Yorkshire but grew up in Cornwall. Her first theatre experience was when the touring arm of the RSC used to visit Truro. “They’d come to Truro Boys School and use the stage in the assembly hall. It was the only place big enough to hold them in those days. I really can’t speak for anyone else who went, but for me, well, I was transfixed. Bowled over. And yes, to use that old cliché, the theatre bug had bitten.”
As a teenager she started her own theatre company. “Not that there was any ‘theatre’ in the family. My mum was a teacher and later an educational psychologist, and my dad was a builder. In fact, he still is – he works for us as our technical manager, and he builds our sets and does some lighting design.”
Kate writes all of Badapple’s shows, which she believes have to be topical, right on point – and funny. “Make no mistake about it, the audiences will tell you when you haven’t hit the bullseye. They can certainly be forthright, and that is as it should be.”
Tickets are affordable – £12 to see a show, or £10 if you are a senior (for youngsters it’s £6 to £8). “You have to get it right. Their hall is their space – we’re not doing them a favour, we are there to entertain.”
Working with Kate at Badapple are composer Jez Lowe, designer Catherine Dawn and director Richard Kay on the creative side, with John Bramley and Duncan Hands as tour managers. For administration, there’s Claire Jeffrey and Annabelle Polito. “They are absolutely brilliant, all of them,” says Kate. “They are the real magicians who get our shows on the road and who keep them rolling.”
Badapple also runs an acclaimed Youth Theatre, which at the moment has about 30 youngsters (aged seven to 14) from Green Hammerton and its surrounding villages who are involved in creating at least two full productions every year. “Get them into theatre at a young age, excite them, let their imaginations run riots, and hopefully you’ll have them for life,” says Kate. “If nothing else, it will develop their social skills, make them more confident, and they’ll learn to communicate so much the better.”
This year’s big anniversary will have feature productions – all “work in progress” at the moment, and some sort of “end of summer-style festival” to celebrate. Whatever happens, audiences can be sure about two things. They’ll have a great night out and they’ll be seeing a top-notch production.
Further information on Badapple’s productions go to email@example.com or call 01423 339168.