After 30 years in a church hall, John Godber (and Hull) will have a theatre
The Hull Truck Theatre Company, whose plays about ordinary working lives are among the country's most popular modern productions, is to get its first purpose-built home in its 30-year history.
John Godber, the playwright who is the company's artistic director, still needs to raise about £1m towards the total cost of £13.6m. But work is now scheduled to start this year on a replacement for the converted Methodist church hall from which it currently operates in a back street in Hull.
Support for the venture has come from the city council, the regional development agency and Europe as Hull attempts to follow Glasgow, Liverpool and Bilbao in Spain in using culture as a catalyst for regeneration.
Godber, who wrote the plays Teechers and Bouncers, said: "We do extremely well considering this venue, but we hope that when we have a level playing field - a theatre that doesn't leak in a place that people don't feel they will get mugged going to - it will be even better.
"Hull deserves to have a purpose-built theatre in the same way as most other cities do - Scarborough, the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, the Crucible in Sheffield, the Alhambra in Bradford." But the plan still needed support, he added. "We're inviting the great and the good and the wealthy to help us raise the shortfall."
Plans for a state-of-the-art building in a prime spot in the city began five years ago when the Arts Council pledged a grant of £4m. The regional development agency in Hull was keen to come on board with broad plans to change the town's image. The city council pledged another £4m and £1.5m more came from the European Regional Development Fund. A private company, ING Real Estate, is giving £1.6m.
"Hull has dragged its feet a little bit in realising the importance of the cultural industries, but that seems to be changing. We're part and parcel of the notion of Hull becoming more cultural," Godber said.
The new home will be in the giant St Stephen's development and is being designed by the architects Wright and Wright, who were responsible for the Women's Library in London but who have not produced a theatre before. "We were very surprised by the Women's Library. It's very robust, but very stylish," Godber said.
It is hoped the building will be opened in April 2007. It will have 455 seats, compared with the current 294, in a configuration inspired by Greek theatre under a low roof - "which is great for comedy," Godber said. There will also be a 140-seat studio theatre, corporate hospitality facilities and space for education programmes.
Hull Truck was set up as an improvisation company 30 years ago by Mike Bradwell, who now runs the Bush Theatre in London. Over the years, it has won support from actors such as Bob Hoskins and writers such as Alan Plater and has become well known through its constant national tours. Touring supports its core activity in Hull by generating 35 per cent of its income.
Godber, who was formerly a drama lecturer working at the University of Hull with Anthony Minghella, now a film director, will mark his own coming of age with Hull Truck next year after running it for 21 years. "Most people go to London to seek their fortune. I only came 36 miles from Wakefield. But it changed my life and completely changed me," he said.
He beat rivals including Danny Boyle in his pre-Trainspotting years to win the top job, only to discover when he arrived in 1984 that the company was insolvent, "which was a bit of a blow".
His solution was to write Up'n'Under, a story about rugby league, which proved a massive hit. His new show, Going Dutch, which will tour after its run in Hull finishes on 22 January, is a comedy of bad manners about two couples on a cruise to Amsterdam.
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