Preview: The Elves And The Shoemaker

Hull Truck's literay manager Nick Lane tells Lianne Steinberg why he's passionate about work that keeps the creative spirit alive there

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As the literary manager at Hull Truck Theatre, former actor and playwright Nick Lane has the role of being its gatekeeper. He is currently in the process of deciding which fresh works receive a commission for its series A Play, A Pie and A Pint, which allows new writers to test out their work in front of a well fed and watered audience. On top of this, Lane is in the midst of directing rehearsals for this year’s Christmas family production of The Elves and The Shoemaker. Fortunately, he’s not too egotistical about his responsibilities.

“In a way I suppose I am the gatekeeper but that sounds very authoritarian. Scripts that get sent, I see them and I write reports on them, and with A Play, A Pie And A Pint I’m responsible for finding the writers whose work I think our audiences will enjoy,” he says.

“I’ve been doing the kids’ Christmas shows for the past 12 years and I still don’t take it for granted.

“I’ve been commissioned by Hull Truck in the past, but I’ve never advocated for my own work. I worked far harder for other people than I do for myself. As a freelance writer I’ll try and get my work around to other places but I always make sure I encourage new writers so it’s never a conflict of interests.”

The Doncaster-born writer has had plenty of success with plays such as the autobiographical My Favourite Summer and Me And My Dad, and was lucky enough to be mentored by John Godber when he joined Hull Truck in the late 1980s.

“John’s been massively influential,” Lane enthuses. “I suspect nobody in my entire career will do as much for me as John has. He’s an incredibly positive figure and generous with his time and that’s not just with me – I know he does help a lot of people.”

It’s an incredibly busy time of year for the theatre and, despite the tough economic times, Lane stresses the importance of Hull Truck’s role at the heart of the community.

“We moved to a new building in 2009 and you might argue that we picked absolutely the wrong time to do it because it was just at the start of the recession. You may find that people who used to save that little bit of money to come to the theatre have now found those resources absorbed into fuel costs or clothes for kids or food – just basic necessities. But we think of theatre as being a vital thing because it teaches you how to think and feel and fortunately we do have a very loyal fanbase.”

Supporting new work in the form of A Play, A Pie And A Pint is something Lane is passionate about and the writing workshops that the theatre organises are essential for creating the new generation of talented playwrights.

“It’s a concept taken from the Oran Mor theatre in Glasgow. We do readings of new works and the audience get to eat a lovely pie and have a drink of local World Top Beer while watching it.

“The thing is, I never wanted to be the most successful or win awards. I’d like to think people enjoy my work because I love writing and directing. But my job is about helping people and I just love that.”

With this continued optimism and dedication to advancing new talent, the festive spirit is certainly in full swing at Hull.

“Elves are quite Christmassy, aren’t they? I love writing stories for kids at Christmas and there’s always plenty of laughs – it’s very silly.”

“I tend to try and write shows that appeal to adults as well as kids. Ever since the whole Disney-Pixar thing, it’s opened up that whole world of visuals to stimulate the kids but the humour is for them and adults too and that’s reflected in the best writing for children.
“If you patronise them, kids are smart and they’ll get it and they’ll be bored straightaway and so will the adults. But if you keep it light and witty and use words, don’t be afraid of words, then it’s great fun.”

The Elves And The Shoemaker, 14 Dec-21 Jan, and A Play, A Pie And A Pint, 21 Dec, Hull Truck Theatre

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