Back to Hull for a fun night out at the theatre

The cast of Queen of the Nile.   Photo:  Karl Andre Smit
The cast of Queen of the Nile. Photo: Karl Andre Smit
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The founder of Hull Truck Theatre, Mike Bradwell, is back with his first show in 30 years. Arts correspondent Nick Ahad spoke to him.

Over the past two decades the name John Godber has become synonymous with Hull Truck Theatre. But the name that created that future history 30 years ago was Mike Bradwell.

It began in the heady 1970s when Bradwell embraced the spirit of the times and, deciding to set up a theatre company, did so by placing an advert in London arts magazine Time Out. The advert read: “Half formed theatre company seeks other half.” Bradwell found his other half and Hull Truck was born. The office was a distinctive white telephone box in a street in Hull and the company touring office a truck. Hence the name.

“We came to Hull because nobody could keep an eye on us there. There were no jobs, we were all on the DHSS and we knew if we moved to Hull – because there were definitely no jobs in Hull, we’d be just left to it to run a company.” He was right. He was left to his own devices and a good thing too – Hull Truck has gone on to become an international force in the theatre world, taking the name of the East Riding city global. From the back of a truck. Started by Bradwell in 1972.

He left the company a decade after setting it up, when Hull Truck had moved into a new building on Spring Street, a former church hall and when John Godber arrived in the early 1980s the company stepped up another gear. Bradwell, meanwhile, went on to run the world-renowned Bush Theatre in London, a theatre above a pub that didn’t just punch above its weight, but became one of the most significant new writing venues in the city which is arguably the beating heart of the theatre world.

A few years ago the latest impressive chapter in the history of Hull Truck was written when the company moved into a new, more prominent £15m building in the city centre.

It was incredible, really, given that it had arrived at that point from the back of Bradwell’s truck in 1972.

Last year Bradwell returned to Hull Truck for the first time since leaving to run the Bush, to direct at the theatre.

He directed and appeared in a show he devised along with some of the fellow founders of Hull Truck. It was, by all accounts, a riot.

“We had an absolutely great time last year,” says Bradwell.

“We got 11 of us from the first five years of Truck back on stage together for the first time in over 20 years. One of the cast had broken his leg so he was wheeled on – it was anarchy and a little odd for us to be performing pieces from shows we made in the 70s and we were there on stage in our 60s.”

Bradwell had such a good time being back on stage in Hull, that an idea was seeded in his head. What if he could return to Hull properly, with another show?

“I talked to Tim (Fountain), who was my literary manager at the Bush for a lot of years and he had written a play that is set in Egypt, but is about two lasses from Hull who go out there. It was perfect – I wanted to find something to stage that would be like the shows we used to do at Truck – they were designed to give the people of Hull a bloody good night out and this fit the bill perfectly.”

Tim Fountain, a Dewsbury born playwright who grew up in a pub, has written a number of multi-award winning plays and after beginning his career on the Birmingham Rep and the Royal Court, went on to develop the careers of a number of significant British playwrights.

The play he has written that Bradwell is directing is based on his own experiences of travelling to Egypt on a regular basis over the past 20 years.

“About five years ago I was talking to some women of a certain age who go there every winter and asked them why they returned every year,” he says.

“They said it was very simple – the beer’s cheap, the men are cheap and they’ve got Emmerdale on the telly’. It was everything they wanted – with the sun.”

At the time Fountain was working on a book called Rude Britannia, which examined the changing attitude of the British towards sex, so the phrase about the men being cheap pricked up the playwright’s ears.

“There is this whole culture of British men and women who travel to Egypt every year to have sex with Egyptian men,” he says.

“It happens, I have seen it over the past 20 years and it’s interesting because it’s not necessarily prostitution as you would imagine it. Some of the British people shower the men they’re sleeping with, with gifts and the like. In other cases they fund whole families and act as though they are married to these men.”

Bradwell adds: “It’s back to the old days of Truck – a fun nigh out.”

Tale of comedy and romance in Egypt

Queen Of the Nile by Tim Fountain and directed by Mike Bradwell has its world premiere at Hull Truck Theatre tonight.

The comedy tells the story of 40-year-old Debbie, who travels to Egypt with best friend Jan. Debbie finds herself introduced to a young boat captain – Mahmoud – by a British ex-pat restaurateur and begins to wonder if he may be the man of her dreams. Or is he taking her for a ride? And if he is, then who’s taking advantage of who?

Queen of the Nile is at Hull Truck Theatre to May 11. Tickets on 01482 323638.