Ten seasons over five years and a ton of shows later, Hull’s Heads Up Festival, is celebrating with a sit down show on anthropology and antiques, a Hull-noir novel staged live, stand out plays around death and daffodils, the contemplation of light, a love letter from Liverpool And a disco with sponges for the under 5’s. As festival blogger I’ve been there from the start, pen in hand, sharing my views on all the weird and wonderful goings on.
It began in 2013 with a single desire to put theatre in unique locations and in doing so transform the city’s understanding of what theatre can be. Words like site-specific (where a work is created to exist in a certain place) and promenade (where an audience move through a space, occupying the same space as the performers) have become synonymous with Heads Up festival programmes.
Dave Windass Theatre-maker Heads Up Festival Co-Director
“Never did I think we’d get to the tenth Heads Up Festival. I almost walked away during the first one because I couldn’t understand why we were doing it, even though I knew we started doing it – because nothing like this existed in Hull. It seemed like such a ball ache, putting on work that nobody would book in advance for because they weren’t sure what any of it was. I remember having an argument with my festival sidekick in a lift, in between trying to sort out some terrible fuck up with a rearranged route for an outdoor performance, because neither of us had the ability to communicate effectively with each other and we were getting on each others nerves.”
Just a few of those unusual locations have included a converted office space – site of the first Heads Up Festival in the aptly named The Other Space – the grass verge by the side of Hedon Road, an underground car park, the Hull to Kings Cross commuter train and most unnerving of all, lying prone in a hospital bed.
For this coming season it is the Bankside area of the city where the festival will break new ground as Heads Up joins forces with What Is? Collective on March 7 to present an artist-led, multi-discipline contemplation on the nature of light. Bankside has long been thought of as the next hotspot for creatives to move into, long before Banksy visited and left his mark on the Scott Street Bridge.
For Heads Up to thrive and survive in an increasingly crowded market, it has had to develop and maintain partnerships, with existing theatre companies.
By partnering with Battersea Arts Centre, described by the Guardian as ‘Britain’s most influential theatre’ through the Collaborative Touring Network, Heads Up has regularly shown new and critically acclaimed work, to audiences here in Hull for the past five years: without that audience having to travel miles. We get to see four and five star shows presented by some of the most innovative theatre companies making work today, right HERE on our doorstep.
“I’m so glad we stuck it out and stuck at it. Ten feels like a milestone, although it’s just another festival and, scraps and spats aside, it’s been easy to achieve because we do two a year. So we’re five years in. I can honestly say that I think we’ve brought some of the best performances and productions that have ever visited Hull. The work we’re fortunate enough to be able to select from because of our partnership with Battersea Arts Centre ensures that we can constantly surprise, unnerve and entertain any one with the guts to step over the threshold, whether they’re walking in to Kardomah94, taking the kids to Central Library or we’re in a marquee, shed, village hall, Hull Minster or somewhere totally unlikely.”
Heads Up has experimented with tie-ins with larger festivals such as Freedom Festival, to take advantage of increased footfall and facilities. Who could forget Theatre Ad Infinitum’s controversial ‘Ballad of the Burning Star’ inside the big top, or the mesmerising live puppet show ‘Odyssey’ by Paper Cinema: the talk of the festival that year?
Heads Up works closely with Hull Libraries, who allow theatre companies to set up camp – quite literally – in their Children’s Section for shows and activities, aimed at younger audiences. Making a soft play area for Early Learners and their families are dance company Turned On Its Head, as they bring together Disco, interactive play and performance in Sponge March 9-10.
Building these relationships has been crucial to the festival’s development, having the time, space and courage to experiment and try new things, is at the heart of what Heads Up Festival is all about.
With that in mind during Season #10 of Heads Up, there is a brand new, world premiere from festival partners Ensemble 52. Dark Winter is a live staging of a crime novel adaptation, originally written by David Mark. Underscoring all the positives for finding new ways to work, this show sold out very quickly.
In recent years more contemporary dance has been brought into the mix, with local and national dance companies presenting new works at Heads Up namely LO:CUS Dance Theatre and Non Applicables. Not forgetting ‘Bucket List’ from Theatre Ad Infinitum and ‘Icons’ by Blazon, both staged as part of the Women of the World Festival last year. During the same season Will Dickie returned with ‘Ravespace’, which saw Hull’s world-famous Adelphi Club transformed with hedonistic dancing and pumping house music, in an immersive spiritual club experience.
It has not all been partying and fun, Heads Up being a versatile beast, has been the platform to tackle serious subjects, such as the stadium fire at Bradford City in ‘The 56’ by Lung Theatre; the destructive nature of war in the terrifying Russian art-house cinema ‘Come and See’ chosen by Vincent Regan and screened last year; or simply saving the world in E52’s own apocalyptic eco-drama ‘The Pale Blue Dot’.
Looking again to this week we will be dealing in death and antiques, with two nights of Ugly Chief under the hallowed ceilings of Hull Minster March 2-3. A new comedy written and performed by Victoria Melody – featuring her dad the antiques expert from the telly Mike Melody, audiences are being invited to bring along heirlooms and collectibles as Heads Up gets in on the antiques game.
Those who have followed Heads Up’s fortunes since the start, will remember Victoria’s show about pageantry and dog shows, starring her beloved basset hound Major Tom.
After the success of ‘Your Darkest Thought’ last year at Substance, Bill Drummond is back again March 8 with a double bill of plays called Daffodils and Death. The first deals with Drummond’s commitment to give away forty bunches of daffodils, to forty strangers… The second is about the untimely death of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, plus seven dead blackbirds, the second coming of Christ and a freshwater shark. Bill Drummond, from seminal nineties activist acid house band The KLF, who famously upset audiences with their shocking finale at the Brit Awards ’92.
Heads Up Introducing is back too March 6. In the hot seat is popular jazz singer Lyn Acton. Then March 9 we take a metaphorical trip down the M62, for an evening of literature curated by Russ Litten called ‘Liverpool With Love’ both at Kardomah 94. What’s not to like?
Dave Windass again…
“We’ve got guaranteed funding for another two Heads Up festivals and we’re looking at how we continue towards another 10, 20, 30 festivals. And as we move forward we need to take audiences with us, and for people to come out and enjoy and experience what we put on the table for them, because it’s all so bloody ballsy and groundbreaking and marvellous and deserves to be seen. We’re all very proud of what we’ve done. In a small way, over ten festivals, we’ve helped changed the artistic landscape around here. So come and join us and be a part of that.”
The 10th Heads Up Festival kicks off March 2 until March 17 all the programme and ticket details Can Be Found HERE