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A montage of headshots of the eight writers

Behind the writing – “we used to be closer than this”

By | News, Shows, Uncategorised
A montage of headshots of the eight writers

If you’ve been keeping up with us, you’ll know that we are celebrating togetherness by being back on the stage Friday 16th – Sunday 18th July with a live audience with ‘we used to be closer than this’, a cabaret of songs written by 8 talented writers from Hull and across the UK.

Not too long ago, we sent a brief to writers asking them to respond to the idea of coming together again through writing a music-led piece of writing which is celebratory, hopeful and challenging in equal measure. But what can you expect from each piece? We’ve asked our writers to tell us more about their song:

Use the arrows to scroll through all of our writer’s stories-behind-the-songs
Collage of eight headshots of the cast

Meet the cast and writers for “we used to be closer than this”

By | News, Shows

After 18 months away from the stage, the cast of we used to be closer than this have started rehearsals today, for our first in-person performance since covid-19 struck the UK.

The show, an outdoor cabaret celebrating connection and togetherness, is written by Natasha Brown, Angelo Irving, Tabby Lamb, Jay Mitra, RashDash, Leo Skilbeck, Kobby Taylor and Tom Wells, with original live music by James Frewer.

It will be performed in Queen’s Gardens from 16-18 July, as part of Absolutely Cultured’s Creative Hull festival.

The cast includes Lauren Azania, Rachel Barnes, Tommi Bryson, Jack Chamberlain, James Frewer, Marc Graham, Anna Mitchelson and Kobby Taylor, with BSL interpreter Stephanie Raper joining the company for both performances on Saturday 17 July.

The writers

A montage of headshots of the eight writers

Top, left-right: Natasha Brown, Angelo Irving, Tabby Lamb and Jay Mitra
Bottom, left-right: RashDash, Leo Skilbeck, Kobby Taylor and Tom Wells

Natasha Brown is a writer, performer, theatre maker and facilitator based in London. Her work interrogates power, identity and community. Natasha is an associate writer of Middle Child.

Angelo Irving is a writer and actor whose career started because of covid. He loves to learn and build with others and wants to be a difference maker.

Tabby Lamb is a non-binary trans femme writer whose work focuses on moments of queer joy and gender euphoria. Tabby is an associate writer of Middle Child.

Jay Mitra is a non-binary British Indian punk poet, writer and artist based in Hull and Manchester.

RashDash are about dancing, making space to be yourself, cultural change and radical pleasure.

Leo Skilbeck is the artistic director for Milk Presents. They write, direct, make short films, and run workshops and training.

Kobby Taylor is an actor, composer and youth worker, who is passionate about all three.

Tom Wells is a Hull-based playwright and associate artist of Middle Child.

The cast

Collage of eight headshots of the cast

Top, left-right: Lauren Azania, Rachel Barnes, Tommi Bryson and Jack Chamberlain
Bottom, left-right: James Frewer, Marc Graham, Anna Mitchelson and Stephanie Raper

Lauren Azania is a British-Caribbean Motown/Disco singer, actress and dancer, based in London.

Rachel Barnes has previously appeared in The Canary and the Crow and I Hate Alone for Middle Child.

Tommi Bryson is Sheffield-born-bred-and-based performer, writer, producer and facilitator; best known for her vibrant comedy music and her varied work at Sheffield’s own Crucible Theatre.

Jack Chamberlain is an actor, director, producer and co-artistic director of Brick By Brick. He has appeared in multiple pantomimes for Middle Child.

James Frewer is a composer and musical director, who has worked on multiple Middle Child shows, including The Canary and the Crow, Us Against Whatever and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

Marc Graham is an actor from Hull and a founding member of Middle Child. In 2017 he won The Stage Excellence Award for his performance in All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

Anna Mitchelson is a performer from Hull who has previously appeared in One Life Stand and multiple pantomimes for Middle Child.

Stephanie Raper is a BSL interpreter from Lincolnshire who works across live music, theatre and performance.

Kobby Taylor, as well as being a writer on the show, is a performer who has previously appeared in The Canary and the Crow and The Little Mermaid for Middle Child.

we used to be closer than this is directed by Paul Smith and the production team also includes: Belle Streeton (assistant director), Natalie Young (designer), Jess Addinall and Adam Foley (lighting designers), Jay Hirst (technical stage manager) and Oliver Strong (assistant stage manager).

  • Pay what you can tickets are on sale now, through Absolutely Cultured.

Dates

Fri 16 – Sun 18 July
Queen’s Gardens, Hull
Pay What You Can

Book Tickets
Surrealist collage of two female burlesque characters sat amongst blue and turquoise flowers, butterflies and dragonflies

Middle Child return to the stage with a summer cabaret in Hull

By | Events, News, Shows
Surrealist collage of two female burlesque characters sat amongst blue and turquoise flowers, butterflies and dragonflies

After more than a year away from the stage we make our long-awaited return with a brand new cabaret, celebrating connection and togetherness, as part of Absolutely Cultured’s Creative Hull festival in July.

we used to be closer than this features songs by writers Natasha Brown, Angelo Irving, Tabby Lamb, Jay Mitra, RashDash, Leo Skilbeck, Kobby Taylor and Tom Wells, with original live music by James Frewer.

Performed outdoors under the sun in Queen’s Gardens, audiences will be seated cabaret style, around socially distanced tables of four people, with a limited capacity of 100 per show.

we used to be closer than this runs from 16-18 July and pay what you can tickets, for all performances, are now on sale through Absolutely Cultured.

Alongside our first live performance in 18 months, budding songwriters can also take part in our free Writing Songs for the Stage workshops, on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 July, as part of the festival.

Bring along a piece of writing – be it a play, a piece of poetry, or anything in between – and work with our musicians and composers to create an original song, that will be set to live music.

  • See the Absolutely Cultured website for more information about Creative Hull.

we used to be closer than this is supported by Absolutely Cultured, Arts Council England and the Cultural Recovery Fund.

Casting Call

Casting call for a transfemme singer and performer

By | Shows
Role

We are looking for a transfemme singer and performer to join our next show, a cabaret of songs about reconnecting, called we used to be closer than this, to be performed 16-18 July 2021. The performer will be required to sing solo as well as within an ensemble. Proficiency with instruments is a bonus, but not a requirement.

Middle Child welcome and encourage applications from everyone regardless of their age, sex, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or nationality.

If you have any access requirements and have any questions about the process, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

How to apply

Please email your application to producer@middlechildtheatre.co.uk with ‘Middle Child Casting’ in the subject header before Friday 25 June at 5pm with the following:

  • Performance CV and/or Spotlight link;
  • An existing video of you singing; or
  • A recording of you singing a verse and chorus of a song of your choice. This can be accompanied or unaccompanied.

Middle Child are happy to receive applications in other formats that may be more suitable for you. Please get in touch at producer@middlechildtheatre.co.uk if you have any questions.

About the show

we used to be closer than this is a collection of cabaret songs about reconnecting, penned by eight of the most exciting writers from Hull and beyond.

Performed in the open air, Middle Child return to the stage this summer with a toe-tapping, hand-clapping celebration of the human touch.

Dates

Monday 5 July – Monday 19 July

Location

Rehearsals and shows will take place in Hull. Travel and accommodation will be provided.

Fee

An inclusive fee of £1076.62, in line with ITC rates.

Covid health and safety

Rehearsals and performances will take place in person in Hull, in-line with the government’s latest roadmap.

All participants will be provided with the appropriate PPE and social distancing guidance will be followed.

Key dates

Application deadline: Friday 25 June at 5pm

Decisions will be made by: Tuesday 29 June at 5pm

Rehearsals and performances: Monday 5 July – Monday 19 July

If you have any questions, please get in touch at producer@middlechildtheatre.co.uk

A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

How we animated #Pantoverse with My Pockets

By | Blog, Panto, Shows, Uncategorised

Middle Child have asked me, Peter Snelling of My Pockets, to write a blog post on what it is like to create the digital content for their Christmas show, Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse. They have also said that what whatever I write, to be honest.  They have, to be honest, asked me this more than once. In fact, it might even be eight times. I don’t really know why I am resisting doing it. I don’t always like unpicking a creative process: I’m sometimes a bit lazy and sometimes I feel weird about putting things on the internet that will be there forever, like the terrible photo of me taken in 2004 that never goes away.

Anyway, I am going to do it now. I’ve made a cup of tea, I’ve got a salted caramel Hobnob snack bar, I’m going to keep writing until it’s done. Hello, if you are still reading; this is everything I know about making a piece of digital content for a Middle Child panto.

Animator Peter Snelling holds up a hand drawn picture of Pattie Breadcake

First of all Paul [Smith, artistic director] rang me up. I think it’s weird how people get to a point where they ring each other up. I met Paul at one thing somewhere, then somewhere else, then saw a Middle Child play and emailed to say I liked it, then asked him for a favour on something, then he rang me up to ask if I could animate a panto.

Over the years as an organisation that only wants to make creative work we have had times when we’ve been on the brink of running out of money. So I find it almost impossible to say no to creative projects. As My Pockets has become more established it’s something I need to address. I know that Elvis had the same problem with food. He’d been hungry once and so when he reached a point in his life where burgers were freely available, he found it impossible to not eat them all.

Not that Middle Child is just another burger that Elvis is stuffing into his mouth. Paul ringing felt more like an invite to a gastro pub. So we started to think about how to turn the panto into something that would work online. Our animations at My Pockets take ages to make. We create about 10 seconds a day. The conversation was in November and the panto needed to be the length of a play, so there was no way we could make it in the normal way. This year we have been experimenting with software that tracks your face and moves a kind of animated puppet along with it, then you wiggle the arms and legs with a mouse and the animation is made. It’s much quicker than the conventional way of doing it and felt like the perfect solution.

A pen in a hand, drawing all of the various panto characters on white paper

Next we needed to design the animated puppets. For me this is the fun bit. I’ve always loved drawing; I like the way it is so quick, that you can do it anywhere, that it needs no technology.  I also don’t think I’m very good at it, which is liberating. I think wanting to be good, or thinking you are good can be really limiting to creativity. It can get in the way of just saying what you want to say. Why is it that those blokes that joined Oasis after Bonehead left are much better at playing guitar, but somehow can’t make the same noise?

I think it’s because being good is not as important as… I’m not sure what it’s not as important as, but I know that if you ask me to draw a vase of flowers with a 2B pencil, the results are always very disappointing. But when I drew Pattie Breadcake in 10 seconds after reading the script I was like, “Yes, that’s her!”

In fact almost all of the characters were drawn first time in seconds, immediately after reading the script. I felt guilty about it and drew each one a few more times afterwards to try and justify my fee, but the first ones were all the best.

A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

I know that the Middle Child panto is loved by lots of people and that it has this kind of anarchic energy. It’s alive and so the quick drawing seems right. It seems like a performance.  We made a few adjustments. Cinderella went from being in a pink princess dress to a tracksuit with headphones, while her face also went from being pink, to green to orange. But really I think that the spirit of the drawing and the spirit of the panto were so well matched it was pretty easy. I think finding creative people who share your spirit is the key to making things that work.

So the fun part was now over. Now I had to bring in the drawings, colour them in Photoshop and make them work with the animation software, against the backdrop of Natalie Young’s set design: photographs of an actual model box! Then I had to perform the whole panto, wiggling my head around in front of my webcam to capture all the movement, lip syncing to the audio files recorded by the actors over Zoom and mastered by Ed Clarke, with music composed by James Frewer. And then export it all, which took a whole weekend of checking the blue bar creeping across my laptop screen. Don’t waste your life watching the blue bar.

A screenshot of the animation software, with a picture of the Evil Queen being motion captured by Peter Snelling in another image box

I’ve finished my cup of tea. I’ve eaten my sugary snack. Now I’ve got to do some terrible Zoom call on a project that I’m not entirely sure I really want to do. Maybe this will be the one I’ll say no to. Maybe now is the time to make a break for freedom.

Working with Middle Child has been a real pleasure. It’s been fun and creative. And they have been so supportive, it’s a breath of fresh air. I can see why their shows are so great; it’s because the people and the company are great. I hope that our animated show helps to plug the 2020 gap of panto anarchy that people will be missing. I can’t wait to see what people think of the Pantoverse.

Marc Graham as Hull panto dame Pattie Breadcake, in a sparkly top and pink dress, with blonde wig and crown.

BBC Radio Humberside to broadcast our 2020 Christmas show

By | News, Panto, Shows
Marc Graham as Hull panto dame Pattie Breadcake, in a sparkly top and pink dress, with blonde wig and crown.

We are very excited to reveal that our panto-inspired show, Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse, will also be broadcast on BBC Radio Humberside in the run-up to Christmas. 

The story of our favourite dame’s quest to help four classic panto princesses retell their tales for a modern audience will be aired across four mini-episodes, from 20-24 December. 

The partnership with BBC Radio Humberside is part of Middle Child’s commitment to make our work as accessible as possible.

This includes making the original animated version free-to-watch on YouTube, as well as providing both English and Polish subtitles. 

Artistic director Paul Smith said: “We’re delighted to partner with BBC Radio Humberside, to broadcast the show as four mini-radio plays, ensuring that people without internet access can also enjoy some theatre this Christmas.”

The scripts will be adapted and performed for radio by the original cast, to be broadcast on the following dates: 

  • Episode 1: Sleeping Beauty by Ellen Brammar – Sunday 20 December, 2.30pm
  • Episode 2: Maid Marian by Hannah Scorer – Monday 21 December, 8.30pm
  • Episode 3: Evil Queen by Maureen Lennon – Wednesday 23 December, 8.30pm
  • Episode 4: Cinderella by Deborah Acheampong – Thursday 24 December, 8.30pm

The original animated version will be available to watch on demand, on YouTube via our website, between Saturday 19 and Thursday 31 December.

You can listen to BBC Radio Humberside on 95.9FM in the Humber region, online at the BBC website or on the move through the BBC Sounds app. 

Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text: "Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse"

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse, a panto-inspired animated Christmas show

By | Artist Development, Panto, Shows
Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text:

This year’s long-awaited Middle Child Christmas show has finally been revealed – and for the first time ever it will be animated and free to watch from the comfort of your own home.

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse sees our favourite dame, Pattie Breadcake, magicked into an animated version of Hull, where she must help four panto princesses retell their stories for a modern audience.

To add to the excitement, a radio version will also be broadcast on BBC Radio Humberside across four mini episodes before Christmas, making it accessible to those without internet access.

With coronavirus restrictions closing theatres in Hull throughout December, this will be the first year Middle Child haven’t performed a panto in-person since we started the tradition at Fruit in 2011, before moving to Jubilee Central in 2018.

We couldn’t not offer families some Christmas cheer this year though, so have teamed up with local animators My Pockets to bring the spirit of panto to life online. 

  • Read more about the decision behind this year’s panto in Paul Smith’s blog post

We’ve also assembled a team of four incredible writers to work alongside Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, on the scripts that combine to tell the tale of Pattie’s adventure into the Pantoverse.

Cinderella by Deborah Acheampong

Deborah Acheampong is one of our nine new associate writers and her version of Cinderella is her first ever commission. 

Deborah said: “It’s honestly been amazing working with Middle Child for their Christmas panto, it’s felt like such a whirlwind.

“I didn’t think that, after sending them a script of mine in the summer, I could end up working on something so fun and whimsical for such a wide audience.” 

Maid Marian by Hannah Scorer

Emerging Hull writer Hannah Scorer, who took part in our Writers’ Group in 2019 and scratch night with Silent Uproar this year, has written Maid Marian for her debut commission.

Hannah said: “I’m a long-time Middle Child panto fan and took my daughter for the first time last year, where we started what will become a new Christmas tradition for us. 

“Before doing the writers’ group with Tom Wells I couldn’t have imagined I’d ever get a commission, so it’s been such a privilege to make something joyful in this weird year. 

“I expect to be completely overwhelmed when I watch it with my kid.”

Sleeping Beauty by Ellen Brammar

Company member Ellen Brammar, who wrote I Hate Alone in 2017 and is currently on the BBC Writers’ Room Northern Voices programme, has written Sleeping Beauty’s tale.

Ellen said: “Panto brings me joy. Full on, pie in the face, wee my pants, joy. So being asked to write for Middle Child’s panto was a Christmas wish come true. 

“I can’t wait to snuggle in with my family and enjoy the mayhem.”

Evil Queen by Maureen Lennon

Finally Hull writer and associate artist Maureen Lennon, who wrote our karaoke cabaret Us Against Whatever last year, has reimagined the story of the Evil Queen from Snow White. 

Maureen said: “I hope people get as much joy from watching it as I have from writing a piece. 

“Never have I felt like I needed children booing, and stupid jokes and messages of joy and hope more than this year. It’s been the absolute dream.”

Paul Smith, who wrote Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, has penned Pattie Breadcake’s introduction and closing missive, performed by company member Marc Graham. 

Paul added: “This Christmas show is extra special to us for being able to commission so many writers and continue to develop their practice, in a year that has already seen Daniel Ward win the George Devine Award for The Canary and the Crow.

Animation by My Pockets

Animator Peter Snelling, of My Pockets, said: We are thrilled to be part of Middle Child’s 2020 Christmas show. When we first moved to Hull we used to sneak into the Middle Child rehearsal space in Darley’s Youth Club when working with young people there.  

“We liked all the posters on the wall, the quotes and the books on the shelves, and thought, who are these guys? Since then we have become big fans and love the way they put theatre in places that it doesn’t normally go, to be seen by people who don’t normally watch. 

“Creativity for everyone is something we really believe in. That and lots of tea breaks.

Will our four heroes get to update their stories before an adoring audience in the (still, just) UK City of Culture this Christmas? 

Find out in Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse, available on YouTube from 19-31 December.

You can also listen to the radio version of the show across four mini-episodes on BBC Radio Humberside, from 20-24 December. 

Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse is made possible with support from the Cultural Recovery Fund.

Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow

Daniel Ward wins the 2020 George Devine Award for The Canary and the Crow

By | Artist Development, Awards, News, Shows
Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow

We are absolutely delighted to announce that Daniel Ward has won this year’s George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright, for his play, The Canary and the Crow

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row revealed Daniel as the winner on air last night. He also takes home £15,000 in prize money. 

It’s been a big year for Daniel, with success at the Writers’ Guild Awards in January, where he won Best Play for Young Audiences with the same play. 

Last month he was also shortlisted for the 2020 Alfred Fagon Award, the leading prize for Black British playwrights. The winner will be announced online this Thursday (26 November).

Daniel said: “To sum up what it means to win this award is so, so difficult. I am honoured, delighted, humbled and feel incredibly unworthy to have my name sit alongside the prestigious list of previous George Devine winners. 

“I am thankful to everyone that has contributed to the creation of this piece, too numerous to mention, so please excuse me for not going into an expansive list. Please know that I hold everyone in my heart.

“In a year when the arts and theatre has faced such turmoil, I am thankful to the artists who continue to bring such creativity, light and inspiration to the world. I pray that light continues to shine into next year and beyond. 

“There are writers who made the shortlist for the George Devine award who have personally inspired me, so thank you.”

The Canary and the Crow is a semi-autobiographical piece of grime-inspired gig theatre that tells the story of a working class black kid accepted to a prestigious grammar school.

Daniel added: “I am a black man. The Canary and the Crow is a story that centres the lived experience of a black man. 

“In 2020 what that means has taken on much greater significance. I wrote this play to highlight the often difficult to articulate experiences of black people navigating society. 

“When it was staged the response was far more positive than I could have ever imagined, but what was particularly special was the black and brown people who approached me, telling me how much it resonated with them and thanking me for championing their stories. 

“Honestly, I felt that was reward enough. The George Devine award is a very welcome, but very unexpected bonus.

“I humbly accept this award not only for myself but also on behalf of those black and brown people who have been often overlooked and undervalued. Simply put, winning this award, in this year, for this story, means everything.”

“We’re honoured to be associated with such a brilliant piece of work”

Originally written in 2014, Daniel developed the script with Middle Child during a week-long residency in 2018.

Middle Child then produced and premiered the show at Hull Truck Theatre in 2019.

It went on to great success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, winning a number of awards and rave reviews, before transferring to London’s Arcola Theatre in January 2020.

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “From the first time I read Dan’s play it was clear that this was a story that had to be told. Its subsequent success is testament to Dan’s hard work and ability as a writer.  

“His play is a vital and searing dissection of racism and classism, a stunning call to arms which demands change. We’re honoured to be associated with such a brilliant piece of work and can’t wait to see what Dan goes on to do next.”

Previous winners of the George Devine Award include Richard Bean, Mike Leigh, Laura Wade, Lucy Prebble and Middle Child associate artist, Tom Wells

Above: Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow. Photo by The Other Richard.

A small bonfire in the middle of a field at night. Text overlay: Signal Fires

Middle Child to light a Signal Fire in Hull in November

By | News, Shows

This autumn, fires will light up across the UK with people sharing in one of the original forms of theatre: storytelling around a fire.

The Signal Fires will signal the vibrancy of touring theatre – and the threat our industry continues to face.

From spectacular bonfires to digital blazes, the nation’s leading touring theatre companies, including Middle Child, will present a series of performances across the country, in celebration of our fundamental need to tell stories.

  • See the full list of participating companies on the Signal Fires website.

Our Futures is Middle Child’s contribution to the project, a collection of eight short plays, written during lockdown in the spring, to be told beneath the stars at Humber Street Gallery, in Hull, on Bonfire Night (Thursday 5 November).

Our Futures is eight shots of hope that draw on the transformative potential of rage, family, lentils and stopping to draw breath.

Tickets are free but limited, so we’re holding a ballot to ensure that everyone who would like to see the work has a fair chance of doing so.

See our Signal Fires event listing for more details about the performances and to enter the ballot for tickets.

Us Against Whatever

Stream Us Against Whatever on YouTube

By | Shows

Following the huge demand for All We Ever Wanted Was Everything on YouTube last week, we are excited to now share with you a recording of Us Against Whatever from Hull Truck Theatre in 2019, available for one week only.

Written by Maureen Lennon in collaboration with Nastazja Somers, with music by James Frewer and lyrics by Paul Smith, this is an electrifying cabaret about the places we keep in our hearts.

From Masuria in Poland and Greenwood Ave in HU6, to a karaoke bar on the night of the EU referendum, via Deano’s volley and a decade of austerity, Us Against Whatever asks what it means to make Hull our home, together.

Stream it now until midnight on Monday 27 April.

If you enjoy the show we would hugely appreciate any donations you can make to our Hull Artists Coronavirus Fund, to support freelancers in the city who’ve lost work due to the pandemic.

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