One benefit of having national portfolio status with Arts Council England is the ability to plan productions far in advance. This includes starting work on a major new show that we’re creating for Hull in March 2019, on the subject of Brexit no less.
Hull voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union in the referendum of June 2016, with 67.6% supporting the eventual result. The opportunity to perform a new piece of work, as we leave the EU, that asks questions of this decision fits perfectly with our aim of bringing people together for a good night out with big ideas in it. And they don’t get much bigger.
Hull is a port city with strong connections to the continent, including a large Polish community, who’ve been all but absent from mainstream conversations on the subject in the city. Hull has also undergone a transformation since the 2016 referendum, as the latest UK City of Culture. What might happen then if we take advantage of an increased appetite for arts and culture to hear different perspectives on Hull’s relationship to Brexit?
Our ambition is to bring together the people of Hull, including its Polish community, to enjoy a night of gig theatre in March 2019 that also challenges our understanding of such a divisive issue. The British Council shares that ambition and has kindly supported us in making two trips to Poland for research and development on the project, with a particular focus on understanding the status of theatre with Polish audiences. We’ve also been invited into the National Theatre’s studio for four days in August, to develop the first draft, which is incredibly exciting.
This week artistic director Paul Smith, associate artist and writer Maureen Lennon, associate artist James Frewer and dramaturg Matthew May are in Poznan, with board member Meg Miszczuk as our guide. We also travelled to Warsaw in mid-April, when Paul, Maureen and Matthew were joined by Magda Moses, who moved to Hull from Poland in 2008 and now works on community engagement in the arts in the city. Below are some of Magda, Maureen and Matthew’s thoughts on that earlier trip.
Magda Moses, adviser
“This trip was essential for Middle Child to produce an authentic and true show. To understand a foreign nation, the cultures and traditions that shape their national personality and identity, you have to become a part of their community and plunge yourselves into their reality.
“Theatre for Poles means a lot: tradition, sophistication, classicism, splendour, elegancy, but also normality, laughter, politics, childhood and family. I think watching three different performances in Warsaw theatres that were so different gave us a little taste of Polish theatre and their audiences.
“Cezary Goes to War, an autobiographical piece directed by Cezary Tomaszewski, directly and cheerfully attacks and deconstructs the military rhetoric and nationalistic ethos in Poland. We also saw Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Biesy, directed by Natalia Korczakowska, which used the theme of a rebellion against the tyrant to link it with the present political situation in Poland. We then rushed in the rain to watch a cabaret, Spiritual Show by Fire in Brothel, directed by Michal Walczak, a typically Polish show – lots of names from the history of Poland, specific Polish jokes, especially about the right and left wing, Catholic Church and modern political situation. Two other things that Paul and Matthew learnt were: 1) do not clap during the intervals and 2) do not try to order beer, as it’s prohibited in a theatre building and not posh enough.
“The Polish community in Hull is also very diverse and that makes their interests very different. Those who attended theatre back in Poland continue to do this here, however some have only started to go to the theatre recently as they have overcome the language barrier. What I can definitely say is, children are most important for Polish parents, so any child-friendly artistic event will draw their attention and build your audience.”