Rising stars

The story of a group of young people from Hull and a writer who believed in them. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.

Almost exactly 12 months ago I brought you a story in these pages of a Bafta-winning writer, the Beautiful South, Barcelona and a group of Hull schoolchildren.

They all came together in an extraordinarily inspirational story.

It’s time for an update.

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Jane Thornton was the writer who worked with Dave Rotheray, Liam Foster and Gary Hammond, formerly of the Beautiful South, to create a new piece of theatre called Ocho, to be performed by schoolchildren.

Thornton and her husband John Godber had been working with pupils at Archbishop Sentamu School in Hull, a school in one of the most deprived areas of the country. Thornton saw something special in the young people she worked with, who were nominated to take extra lessons in drama after showing potential. Thornton says: “Pursuing a career in the arts for any of these pupils can seem unachievable, especially when many of them are lacking in self-belief. At a time when the arts are continually facing cutbacks in schools, the programme which allowed the gifted pupils to work with professionals who are making a living in the industry is extraordinary and unique.”

Thornton wanted to give the children an experience that matched her ambition for them. She wanted them to dream big. She didn’t just want them to perform Ocho in Hull – she wanted to take the finished performance to Barcelona.

With the help of various firms in Hull and Lord John Prescott, the £26,000 needed to fund the trip was raised and last summer a group of 17 young people from Hull travelled to Barcelona to perform Ocho.

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The play tells the tale of eight men from Hull who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War and weaves within their stories the tale of what happened to the wives and families they left behind in 1936. Following sell out performances in Hull last year, the cast went to perform at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona (IAB). And the legacy of that trip is something else. “The project has been remarkable. Not only have the students continued to grow and find confidence, but their skill levels and interest in theatre has also expanded in all directions,” says Thornton.

“This is exemplified by the exceptional number of places that members of the cast have secured at leading drama schools and universities.” This from a school, that was only recently taken out of special measures. There’s more.

Following the performance of Ocho in Barcelona, the principal of the IAB Giles Auckland Lewis immediately offered two of the cast members, Elle Ideson and Corey Rylands, full scholarships to study on the BA Acting Course. The scholarships are worth several thousands of pounds. “The performance was remarkable,” says Auckland Lewis. “The youngsters demonstrated such maturity and understanding and clearly had engaged with both the craft of acting and intellectual content of the piece. Without consulting each other my business partner and I came to the same conclusion: we wanted some of those youngsters to come to IAB and we made the decision there and then to offer scholarships to two of the performers . This will be a life- changing experience for them and we are thrilled to have them with us.”

The story goes on. In December, back in Hull, the company gathered to restage Ocho, with Thornton inviting Adrian Hall, the Principal of The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts London and the North, to the performance. Thornton says: “He offered the entire cast places to attend the acting foundation course without the need to audition, along with a number of scholarships and funded places on the BA acting course.” All of the cast have now been offered places at various different drama schools. It’s difficult to overstate what an achievement this is, given that these pupils come from what is considered one of the country’s poorest wards. There is a further hurdle to now overcome.

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“All these young people still need to find money for accommodation and living. They can take out loans, but this will make their debts enormous and the thought of this can make their ambitions seem unattainable. Students from higher income families whose parents can afford to pay for them don’t need to juggle courses with jobs and have much less debt at the end of their training. It is simply not a level playing field.” To help the students to be able to afford to get through their drama training, Thornton is helping to lead on fundraising. The Spotlight Scholarship is set to be launched at a special gala lunch on June 10, where the support of local businesses will be sought to either pledge donations to individual students of contribute to an overall fund. Thornton says: “This fund is so vital to help these students follow their dreams.”


Hull based solicitors’ firm Neil Hudgell is helping with the fundraising via the Neil Hudgell Trust.

To reserve a table for the launch event of the Spotlight Scholarship Fund, at a cost of £500 call Sharelle Gibbons on 01482 380706 or email sgihudgellsolicitors.co.uk

To make a donation to the Spotlight Scholarship fund, send cheques to Archbishop Sentamu Academy, 1 Bilton Grove, Hull, HU9 5YB.

For more information 
about the fund, email Liam Foster, who is the scholarship co-ordinator on foster.lsentamuacademy.org.uk