Hull alumnus and playwright Rupert Creed discusses working on the opener to Hull UK City of Culture 2017, the rebirth of Hull and his love for the city.
It’s been more than 70 years since the fire and smoke of the Blitz over Hull died out; since the incessant hum of enemy aircraft flying by night carrying their disastrous cargo ceased; since the last howl of the air raid siren was heard throughout the city.
For many, though, the experience remains clear in the mind. As part of ‘Made in Hull’ –
a series of installations reflecting the city’s recent history, and the opening event for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 – the buildings surrounding Queen Victoria Square were lit up with air raid footage accompanied by plumes of smoke and harrowing sound effects. One elderly man was reduced to tears as he witnessed the piece. His young grandson turned and assured him that it was OK, that it wasn’t real.
“But of course, for the grandfather it was absolutely real,” says Hull alumnus Rupert Creed (Drama, 1978). “He’d lived through it, all of it. The piece touched people’s minds and hearts, and that’s ultimately what good art does.”
In 2015, Rupert was approached with the offer of writing ‘Made in Hull’. The project was to be a collaboration between local, national and international artists, collectively committed to telling the story of Hull. It was to celebrate everything the city has endured and achieved over the years, and look at where it’s going.
“Hull is a place apart,” says Rupert. “It’s got a distinct ‘outsider’ feel to it, with its own culture and character, its own humour and pride. It’s also a city whose people are extremely resilient, creative and independent.”
Through a trail of spectacular son et lumière installations projected onto buildings in some of the city’s most familiar parts, Rupert and his team paid homage to many of the ‘game changers’, as Rupert refers to them, that have taken place in Hull over the decades – specifically in the arts, politics, science and commerce.
“We wanted to look at the fishing and the shipping industries, and the docks and the port trade,” he says. “We also wanted to show people at play, whether caravanning or visiting Hull Fair, or taking part in sport here. All of those things were really important to include when telling this city’s story.”
Of course, Hull has also experienced some key historical events – not least the Blitz, but also decades of steep industrial decline and numerous fishing tragedies – all of which are still alive in the city’s collective consciousness, and all of which featured in ‘Made in Hull’.
Hull’s story is far from finished, though. ‘Made in Hull’ was as much a celebration of the past as of the rebirth of the city. “Through it, we wanted to change outsiders’ perceptions,” Rupert says. “There’s something special about Hull; it gives you the freedom to experiment, and I think that’s because we’re geographically on the edge. We’re now showing the rest of the world that this is a city whose culture, whose people, whose hard work and graft and industry collectively make it a truly remarkable place.
“By projecting onto buildings, we effectively wanted the city to speak – and the reactions of people were really quite phenomenal. They were so engaged – moved, even – by their own story. It was one of those fantastic events where the artists and the community came together to create an experience which was about moments in their own history but which was also a moment in itself.”
Coming to Hull as an undergraduate from Brighton, it didn’t take long for the ‘southern outsider’ to fall in love with the city. Rupert later carved out a distinguished career as a playwright, story facilitator and theatre director. He’s never left Hull, though – even if his plays have been performed across
“Brighton was a great place to be a teenager but Hull had an earthy, different feel,” says Rupert. “People are very honest, straightforward and funny here. It was the University that really drew me, though; the Drama Department was, and still is, a remarkable place. It gave me a 360-degree grounding in all aspects of theatre – whether as an actor, a director, a writer or a technician. Likewise, the German Department was brilliant. My university training didn’t just give me a creative, academic approach to my subjects: it gave me a thorough grounding in the actual practice of them, and allowed me to pursue a very happy, 40-year career in the arts – and I’m very grateful for it.”
There’s no slowing for Rupert yet. With Hull Truck Theatre Company and members of Hull’s Youth Theatre he’s working on Defiance, a performance piece about defiance in the lives of people in and around Hull. He’s also currently involved in a project about the life and times of Hull-born guitarist Mick Ronson.
“A lot has been done on Bowie, but there’s a fascinating story to be told about Ronson who grew up on Greatfield Estate; about how this unlikely lad became a major creative force alongside Bowie. We’ve already started recording the stories and memories of the people who worked and played with him, who were friends and fans.”
‘Made in Hull’ will go down in Hull’s history, as will the City of Culture year as a whole. The legacy of both will be lasting. This, Rupert is convinced, is Hull’s time, Hull’s year. “It’s our year to produce incredible work and to shine, and to show the rest of the world how brilliant we are. We’ve got an amazing history behind us and an even more amazing future ahead.”
Staff and students are among the army of volunteers making every event special.
Fireworks light up the sky.
Graduates use the 75m wind turbine blade as a backdrop for the traditional hat-throwing photos.