Drag king cabaret-inspired play to premiere in Hull

A drag king-cabaret inspired play about Victorian superstar artist Elizabeth Thompson will have its world premiere at Hull Truck Theatre in May.  

Modest, written by Ellen Brammar with music by Rachel Barnes, is the latest show by award-winning Hull company, Middle Child.  

They are producing it in collaboration with Milk Presents, a company who celebrate queer bodies, uplift queer stories and centre creativity, resilience, action and joy. 

Elizabeth Thompson fell two votes short of becoming the first woman elected to the Royal Academy in 1879, after stunning the public with her painting “Roll Call” five years earlier. 

Modest uses music, comedy and drag to tell Elizabeth’s story of being a pioneering artist who shouldered the hopes and dreams of women across the country. 

Writer, Ellen Brammar, said: “Elizabeth’s unwavering confidence and unapologetic arrogance was really fun to write, she’s perfectly imperfect and I love her and feel exasperated by her in equal measure.  

“The idea for Modest was born from a podcast about tokenism, illustrated through Elizabeth’s frustrating story, which lodged itself firmly in my head. 

“I am so excited for Modest to open in Hull, it feels right that it premieres here amongst my friends and neighbours before heading off on tour.” 

Modest will appear at Hull Truck Theatre from 23-27 May, before heading on a national tour which includes dates in Scarborough, Newcastle and Ipswich, with more to be announced. 

The show headlines Hull Truck Theatre’s Grow Season of new and contemporary theatre, which includes performances and workshops over three months from May through to July. 

Paul Smith, Middle Child artistic director, said: “Everyone at Middle Child is incredibly excited to be kicking off our tour of Modest in our home city at Hull Truck Theatre, alongside our brilliant pals at Milk Presents.  

“This show is exactly what Middle Child exists to make – a great night out with big ideas in it; combining drag, cabaret and live music to tear down the Victorian art world one patriarchal paintbrush at a time.  

“If you like your art political, playful and completely outrageous then this is the show for you. We can’t wait to show you what it means to be Modest.” 

As part of the Grow Season programme, Milk Presents’ artistic director and Modest co-director, Luke Skilbeck, will also offer a free workshop on devising queer performance. 

Luke said: “Milk Presents are excited to collaborate with Middle Child. We’ve long been a fan of their work, their entertaining anarchy, the way having a great night out is high on the priority list. Bringing a queer show to the stage with them feels like a brilliant partnership and collaboration.  

“Modest will fuse theatre, drag king cabaret and song – it’s going to be a fun night out, whilst also spotlighting someone who, whilst a star at the time, has largely been relegated to the footnotes of any art literature.  

“Elizabeth Thompson is fierce and a brilliant artist, of her time and ours. We’re exploring the mechanisms at work which meant she couldn’t flourish: what does that say about institutional access, power and gender today?  

Tickets are available now from the Hull Truck Theatre website for between £10 and £20, with a pay what you can performance on Tuesday 23 May and a post-show Q&A on Wednesday 24 May. 


A Middle Child production in collaboration with Milk Presents 

Written by Ellen Brammar with music by Rachel Barnes 

Directed by Luke Skilbeck and Paul Smith 

Set design by QianEr Jin  

Costume design by Terry Herfield  

Lighting design by Jessie Addinall  

Sound design and music production by Eliyana Evans  

Movement by Tamar and Jo Dance Company  

Dramaturgy by Matthew May 

Developed with the support of the National Theatre’s Generate Programme 

Hull Truck Theatre 

Dates: 23-27 May 

Times: 7.30pm, with 2.00pm performances on 24 and 27 May 

Tickets: £10-20 and Pay What You Can on 23 May