Hull is no longer the punchline in a joke.
When it was announced the city was to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2017, national newspapers despatched their reporters to discover this strange city by the sea, famous for a grumpy poet librarian and John Godber.
But those in the know have always realised that Hull is a city rich in culture. Larkin and Godber aside, the city gave birth to Tom Courtenay, Barrie Rutter and stand-up Lucy Beaumont is just one contemporary rising star.
The city’s producing theatre, Hull Truck, has been through a rocky patch. It is now sailing calmer waters with Mark Babych at the helm as artistic director.
His latest production, a story by local writer Richard Vergette, is a local story. Dancing Through the Shadows, which opened at the theatre this week, is inspired by Vergette’s family history.
“Inspired is the right word – rather than based on. Both of my parents experienced the war and, therefore, growing up I was aware of not only their memories of it but also the impact that it had on them. My father saw active service in North Africa, but, in common with so many other servicemen never really spoke of his experiences,” says Vergette.
While his family experiences directly don’t appear in the story, they provided a platform for the writer. “Much of the drama is set in Hessle Road – where my mother-in-law was brought up so her insight was invaluable and I was able to use resources at the History Library in Hull. I hope, however, that people will recognise that although I have used local knowledge and experience the play is anything but parochial or cosy.
“The setting may be familiar but the themes are massive – universal even.
“There is something very special about giving something to Hull that is about Hull. The truth is that 1,200 people lost their lives during the blitz in Hull and 90 - 95 per cent of housing was either destroyed or damaged. To be able to have this play produced which acts as both a memorial to the dead and a celebration of the living seems particularly fitting.”
Babych, the man who commissioned and is directing the play, says: “Hull is a city of remarkable stories and a key part of our artistic policy is to try and respond artistically and creatively to the people and place of Hull.
“The play is part of a trilogy of work we are making over the next few years which examines key events in the city’s history that has shaped its identity and the steps by which it has evolved over the most challenging of times to the new spirit of optimism and confidence that surrounds it.”
And Hull Truck is in a perfect position to take advantage of the fact that the UK’s cultural gaze will be turned on it in a couple of years time. That new confidence, working with a community cast, local writer and actor – is that sign of the direction in which the theatre is heading? “It’s a sign of how the theatre and the broad range of work it produces and presents are beginning to strike the right balance and find connections with its audiences again. I think the key word here is balance – we will continue to find and be inspired by local stories that excite us but we will also widen our horizons to embrace compelling human stories from further afield that have relevance and are important to tell.”
• Hull Truck Theatre, to October 24. 01482 323638.