17th November 2017 // Cultural // Local
I hated history at school. Or I thought I did. An endless list of names and dates and countries and wars were spewed at us twice weekly. It was as dull as maths, so for most of us, it was a chance for a bit of a kip. Couldn’t kip in maths classes because most of the teachers were sadists. But most history teachers were actually nice people. I’m not even sure if they were bad teachers, it was just the way it was presented. They were all the same, so it must have been the education system, and lack of ideas on how to bring it to life. Most people are surprised when they leave school and find that history is fascinating. Every single one of us is fascinated about history of some sort. Be it the history of your rugby league team (more of which later), your football team, musical history, your family’s history, your partner’s history. As we are celebrating our city this year, it’s only natural that people are discovering more about Hull’s history, or are actually interested in our past. History was a dirty word at school, it probably scared most people off; made people wince at the mere sound of the word HISTORY. And that’s a shame. Because our city has a fine history. And it’s worth mining. Luckily we have The History Troupe to wipe away those memories of tweed-suited, yawn-mongers reading out dates from a book while you took notes.
The History Troupe are a local arts heritage group, the brainchild of local historian, Rob Bell, which started in 2012 with a book, Sharp Street, written by Rob about how the impact of losing 140 men in World War I affected the titular community. It’s interesting for the way it presents the history: through the medium of poetry, the book being a series of poems with one long narrative thread. And it’s this manner in which it’s presented that is crucial to the collective’s ethos. It has since grown into a full-on performance-based body of artists, who contribute and collaborate in different media, to educate us about our local history, whilst also providing us with a top night out.
Joining Rob, as co-founder, Graham Hamilton is performance director; he’s a choreographer, poet, scriptwriter and performer. Dave Gawthorpe, along with Mick McGarry and The Hillbilly Troupe, are responsible for the music in the productions, and draft in a host of local musicians to bring a musical element to the performances. Creative catalyst, Derek O’Connor is responsible for composing music and visuals, and the core is completed by local historian, Robb Robinson, who is vociferously passionate about promoting Hull beyond the A63 and the River Humber.
InPort Stories is the Troupe’s latest project, and it’s a towering, ambitious production which looks at our history as a maritime city. it takes us on a journey, with the aid of a wonderfully-presented photo exhibition from ABP’s photo archives, into our own cultural heritage as a thriving port city. It serves as a thrilling document of life on the docks. It’s an exhilarating ride. A mosaic of its fascinating past and innovative future. Its proximity to the new Siemens factory serves as a constant, physical reminder of where we’re heading, and it’s this juxtaposition which lends the project extra clout as past rubs shoulders with the hope that the future offers.
The ‘pop-up gallery’ is the centrepiece to this wonderful project, and is situated in the remarkable Pump House, a Grade II listed building next to the new factory. It’s not solely an exhibition though, there are performances of music, drama, poetry, creative workshops and talks throughout its run, that catch the spirit, and tell the tales of our proud maritime history in an accessible and captivating way.
The Box is a drama about four dockers in Hull in the 1970s and how they face up to modernisation. There are clear parallels across all industries down to now. They are keen to stress that the focus on this production is not only the fishing industry, but also the cargo and shipbuilding industries among others, including the current, burgeoning Green Port Hull, and whilst this is a historical story, it still resonates with today; the themes are parallel.
Hessle Road’s fishing industry is also represented by Boolin’ Prams, which tells the tale of two women living in the centre of this, once-bustling area, where there was a strong sense of community brought about by the industry. There are also authoritative talks by local historians, but the emphasis is firmly on performance, and judging by The History Troupe’s previous projects, A Tale of Two Cities: A Story of Hull KR and Hull FC and Run for the Line, about Hull FC legend, Jack Harrison, you will be entertained. Mick McGarry, along with The History Troupe Players and The Hillbilly Troupe will be treating us to a carefully-selected batch of characteristically Hullensian nautical shanties that’s emotional, and rip-roaring good fun, as the whole thing is given the Troupe treatment.
Wherever you travel in the world, ports are the most fascinating places, with a wealth of material lurking in the alleyways. From New York to Liverpool, Rotterdam to Glasgow, and Venice to Shanghai, Hull is a different type of city, we’re very much part of that lineage. There’s a toughness in all of these cities that’s fascinating, but there’s also an underlying warmth, and The History Troupe exude that in spades.
Anyone that attends these Troupe events can expect to come away, not only entertained, but armed with knowledge as history collides with art to gives us a unique night out. It’s a ground-breaking concept which I wholeheartedly want to see more of. They are also taking it to the schools, this radical way of funning-up history, so there is hope…
It’s a million miles away from the drab process of memorising facts and dates from monotone bores at school. There seems to be a trend to give history a post-millennial makeover, and it’s about time, because learning how we got here is fascinating; we shouldn’t be put off by the rubbish foundations laid by our teachers. The word shouldn’t instil abject dread into us; it can be brought alive, as evidenced by The History Troupe.
Keep an eye out for the events which run until 10th December, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.