Paul Smith: Goodbye to Darley’s

Artistic director, Paul Smith, pays tribute to Darley’s, our home of almost a decade, as Middle Child prepare to find a new space in Hull, following Goodwin Development Trust’s decision to sell the building.

Middle Child company members sit outside Darley's in 2011

Middle Child company members outside Darley’s in 2011.

Wasted hours, before we knew
Where to go, and what to do
Wasted hours that you make new
And turn into
A life that we can live
– Arcade Fire


Holes in the floor, the smell of stale beer and foundations built out of nothing more than dreams of what could be. We fell in love instantly. The imperfections working only to make you more perfect. We were kindred spirits; rough around the edges, off the beaten track, needing someone to see what we could become rather than focusing on our flaws. 

And so, with a blend of practicality and kindness from SomewhereTo and the Goodwin Development Trust less than a year into being a theatre company we had a home. 

A single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. And it was the best of times. It was the best of spaces. It was all we needed. In that single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub we dreamed of changing the world. We grafted and we worked for free and we argued and we laughed and we made so, so many mistakes. But throughout what fuelled our ragtag bunch of Uni mates was an unshakeable belief in what was to follow.  

The building typified everything we felt about the world at the time. It had rebellion in its bricks. It had to – it was on a council estate in the ‘Number One Crap Town’ in the country. But the magic of this city was always obvious. Well before City of Culture this was a city of culture. And we simply wanted to do our bit. To have an impact in a city we love. Our dream was simple. Why shouldn’t a dilapidated pub on the Thornton Estate in Hull be a place where incredible art is made? Why shouldn’t it be a place where ideas are tested, dreams are dreamed and people come together?

And so, making it up at every step of the way, we cracked on with doing our little projects in our little room. We were tiny and poor but felt huge and lucky. And in that room, over the years, things happened. Plays, pantos, rehearsals, parties, workshops, funding bids, romances, relationships, revolutions. We celebrated successes and forgot failures. We dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed and we dreamed.

A young Asian male sits on a chair in the middle of a room, smiling, script in hand

Nima Taleghani in rehearsals for Mercury Fur, 2015

You said we’re not so tied together
What did you mean?
Meet me in the stairwell in a second
For a glass of gin
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there
Nobody else will be there then
Nobody else will be there”
– The National


Dusty tables, empty bins and that sign. “For Sale By Auction”. On the wall hangs a framed picture of our first successful funding bid. £8,850. The space filled only by the ghosts of what went before; another quiet place in a quiet industry. But you can still imagine it, if you try hard enough. Six months ago that feels like six years. The full building now, not just a single room on the top floor of a dilapidated pub. A National Portfolio Organisation now, not just a ragtag bunch of Uni mates (though we’re still around). A now dusty theatre library with over 2,000 plays free for anyone to borrow remembers when you came in and discovered that play that felt like it was speaking directly to you. Dusty desks remember when you came in to work and cracked that big idea and rushed into the office to excitedly tell everyone. Dusty walls, if wiped, would still shine with that glorious pink lovingly splattered by our city’s amazing volunteers. The dusty rehearsal room stands stoically, like an industry veteran remembering its finest performances but knowing those days are lost to the cruel relentlessness of time. 

Without being able to say goodbye, we get ready to say goodbye. The rebellious bricks that inspired us to carve out a life are unshakeable in their duty. 

We are older now, all of us. We dream differently. We do differently. The world is different.

Perhaps there was a day where we outgrew each other, but neither of us wanted to admit it. Perhaps parting like this was inevitable. But it is unavoidable that when saying goodbye we focus on the best times. And, even as I type this with a tear in my eye, I know that you’ll live on. Perhaps even stronger in our memories than in reality. There you don’t age. The drains don’t smell as strongly, the water doesn’t taste as metallic and someone always remembers to put the bins out. There we did all the things we wanted to do.

Two men in fancy dress stand on stage and point at a cheering audience

Lock In Festival, 2018

Darley’s. It was our space.

Not Middle Child’s, but ours. Hull’s space.

You came in and you lit it up. You made noise, you borrowed books, you changed the world. It was a place where anyone was welcome and where anything felt possible. We’ll never forget that. 

But things change. And soon, we will find a new home. We’ll fall in love with imperfections all over again, and we’ll argue and we’ll laugh and we’ll make so, so many mistakes. But we won’t ever stop dreaming. We won’t lose our unshakeable belief in what is to follow. 

Some time in the future, we’ll welcome you all once again into a new space. It’ll feel different. There’ll be inevitable comparisons. But we will do all we can to make it a space that welcomes you; a home for dreamers who know they can change the world. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we start over again and we’ll dream and we’ll dream and we’ll dream.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Michelle Dee says:

    I hope your new home helps you to continue to be the vital force for innovation and fun that you have been since your inception. I’ve learned something new with every outing, and you showed your heart was with the artists at the start of Covid oh so completely. I know you are not going anywhere and this is not goodbye, but perhaps the end of a chapter. My favourite show of yours was definitely Mercury Fur upstairs in an abandoned office space, that was one theatre experience I’ll never forget, the performances, the space, the whole world you created: revolutionary. thank you for being the best Middle Child a parent could wish for. See you in your new home.

    • Jamie Potter says:

      Thank you so much Michelle, such a kind comment. We hope you’re among the first through the doors wherever we end up x

  • Mandy says:

    Carlton theatre on anlaby road, Hull.
    Once a theatre and a bingo hall now left unused! Perfect space to host your own performances and those of others!

  • Caroline Ullyart says:

    Thanks all of you … for doing all the wonderful work and play !
    I think I came or supported most of your eclectic nine year output! ( I feel even older than ever realising it was nine years)………
    I guess the buildings themselves are some of ‘the new world order’s‘ problems now.
    Performing maybe even more than before (at community level) need taking to anywhere but closed places….carts and travelling players in prearranged areas and back to the basics and origins. …
    Can you muscle in somehow on the Stage Dock as your adopted mothership ? It’s so underused most of the year..
    Or aim to create something like it ?
    All the best with your search on all fronts … I’ll be following as ever …
    Caro Ullyart

    • Jamie Potter says:

      Thank you, Caroline! We do still think there’s a place for places (pardon the pun!) as having somewhere that we convene artists has been so important to us. But we love that marauding spirit too and want to keep hold of it and avoid anything too polished. We’d love to do something at Stage at the Dock, it’s an incredible space x