Growing up, I never felt particularly proud to be from Hull. In fact, the absolute opposite. If enquiries were made about my origins, I’d launch into a frenzied, pattie buttie-wielding defensive about only being here from the age of three and actually entering the world in Cheltenham. In reality, the South was highly exotic to me. In my mind, it consisted of well-spoken, respectable people and was home to the mysterious cousins I never saw. Hull, on the flip side, represented ignorance and always a personal attack on my own need to be other than the ‘norm’. Prancing around with fake hair pieces on my head and calling myself Nancy really didn’t help, but still.
Now, slightly worldlier and benefitting from over ten years living elsewhere, I have the advantage of objectivity. I can see how much Hull has grown and really worked to do so and subsequently, I am the first to defend the city that has garnered a reputation for being Britain’s crappest. Its position as 2017’s City of Culture is phenomenally encouraging. ‘Ull-ians’ like me can rant about cosmopolitan Princes Ave, huge diversity of foods on Newland and the great museums and gallery (Ferens – which will host the Turner Prize in September) till we’re orange and black in the face but it’s going to take something this large scale to truly change the mind of the collective sceptic.
The passion that has been fired at the year-long celebration from those involved, particularly the creatives is loud and confident, and it’s clear they will stop at nothing to make sure everybody and anybody not familiar with Hull knows exactly how unique and special it is. Lindsey Alvis, producer at Hull City of Culture is working across many of the exciting theatre projects and with an impressive ten year career that involves producing for Headlong and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, is thrilled to be back home with, she claims, a “once in a lifetime opportunity to give something back to the place I grew up in”.
There’s a vast array of theatre on offer, including the RSC co-production of The Hypocrite by established Hull-born playwright, Richard Bean, currently playing a sold out run in the main space of the Hull Truck theatre. The venue, which saw a huge revamp and location change in 2009 will also see smaller studio productions, including Eurohouse, a darkly humorous look at the EU’s founding ideals and Alvis herself will be working with Slung Low on James Phillips’ Flood, a year-long epic told through live performance and digital manifestations. For the first time too, Hull University will host the National Student and Drama Festival which, since its founding in 1956, has provided a platform for such alumni as Caryl Churchill, Meera Syal and Simon Russell Beale. The University itself also boasts the late Oscar winning Director Anthony Minghella as a former student, who studied Drama and graduated in 1975.
A huge part of City of Culture is bringing new voices into the foray and showing how these especially can reflect the world we live in today. The New Diorama theatre recently held a showcase for various Hull-based companies, where they performed rehearsed readings of upcoming shows. I had the pleasure of sitting in on Middle Child’s, whose production of Luke Barnes’ All We Ever Wanted Was Everything will be just one of many stirring and inspiring pieces of theatre we can expect to see in Hull this year. The show especially is striking and thought-provoking, as it discusses and attempts to make sense of the deeply open-ended issues Millennials face in a culture of distraction.
Chatting with Alvis, it is overwhelmingly clear she feels strongly about companies such as Middle Child and ‘developing and nurturing new and emerging talent.’ When I probe about whether it has anything to prove to the rest of the country especially, she is very open and, whilst protective, seems to think Hull can very much look after itself.
“I think challenging the preconceptions about a place is important wherever that is. Hull hasn’t always been the first to shout about its achievements or the great things about living and working here. It’s an honest, open and vibrant city with a strong personality and that’s what I love about it. For me, it’s about getting that across.”
Regardless of the very special accent I have the pleasure of never getting rid of, Hull’s hardworking attitude, especially when presented with such a great opportunity as this and lack of desire to tell everyone about all of the incredible things and people it has produced, is what makes it very special indeed. With such a mixture of creativity on offer and particularly new theatre and voices that have the backing of a whole city, the rest of the country is in store for a shockingly good time.
Hull City of Culture’s programme runs throughout 2017.
Image: James Mulkeen