In conversation with John Middleton ahead of Hull & High Water at Hull Truck Theatre, which runs until Saturday 10 July.
How has this rehearsal process differed from previous shows you’ve worked on, and how do you think it has shaped the outcome of it?
Well, it differs tremendously from other shows that I’ve worked on, in that I’m on my own. It’s me and the rehearsal room, y’know. Normally at the end of the first day of rehearsals you say to the rest of the cast, “Shall we go and have a pint?” – that was a lonely enterprise for me. *laughs* I’ve done a one person show once before, and whilst I miss the interaction you have with other people, I’m working with a tremendous team. Tom, our director, is great fun to work with, as is Danni and also Bella that I’m working with in this room as well. It’s a very understanding, very supportive team and I feel a great deal of support coming from them which is exactly what I need.
If you could sum up the show in three words, what would they be?
Three words, now you’re asking. I would say, in three words: People. Of. Hull.
What is your favourite memory, centred around a location in Hull.
My son – my youngest son, and his wife actually, went to the University of Hull and I think his graduation ceremony was great fun. We stayed overnight and prior to that we’d got to know Hull quite well, we’d come down and had a drink at The Minerva and places like that. So, I knew Hull reasonably well, but that’s my happiest memory, that was a really great day.
What’s the show about?
A – Well, this show is about a chap called Frank Piddock who used to play rugby for Hull Kingston Rovers and is now in a home – that he thinks is a hotel because sadly he’s got Dementia, and he gets out and goes on a walk about. Well, not just a walk about, a taxi ride and a bus ride about Hull to places which are significant to him and which people in the audience might recognise.
Who is this play for?
This play is for anyone who wants to turn up. But it’s specifically written in celebration of Hull. And so, I think it will be particularly appreciated by people from Hull – so it’s a good job we’re doing it here really *laughs*.
How excited are you to be performing in front of real, live audience members again?
Oh, I’m terrifically excited to be in front of an audience again. I mean, quite apart from anything else, as some people might know that I was 21 years in Emmerdale, so I was in front of a camera – there is an audience in the studio but it’s not quite the same thing at all. I did do a national tour of a play as I came out of Emmerdale but of course, with the pandemic, nothing’s been happening, and we’re all starved of that response. Working with an audience we all participate in the making of this play and it’s a joint enterprise. I’m very nervous, I have to say, but I’m also very excited and that’s the business of being an actor. Hopefully people will enjoy it and appreciate the fact that they’ve got a live person in front of them and me, appreciating that I’ve got a live audience.
What can people expect to feel?
I hope that people will feel empathy for this chap and also, I hope that it will lead to a better understanding of Dementia and what it’s like to live inside Dementia. Again, some people will know that my story (which took me out of Emmerdale) was one about young onset Dementia and as I did the research on that I got tremendous help from the Alzheimer’s Society, a group in Bradford called Pathway’s Breaks and a group in North Yorkshire called Dementia Forward. I became quite passionate about Dementia, as an issue, because it’s something I think is a very overlooked issue. 850,000 people are diagnosed with Dementia in this country, at this moment. That number is growing. It’s the biggest health problem that we have in this country, it out strips cancer or heart disease or anything like that and yet those two diseases are assumed to be the worst threat that we have. Where in fact it is Dementia and a lot of money, research and understanding has to go into it and so I’m quite passionate about it and greatly happy that I’m doing a play that is about that.
This show is part of Homecomings Season. Welcoming audiences back to Hull Truck Theatre. What does Homecoming mean to you?
Well, homecoming to me is – it’s a bit of a funny one because I was born in Bradford, grew up in Warrington ‘til I was 14, then we moved to Newcastle so ‘home’ to me is The North. I lived in London for a while, but moving back up to first of all, Whitley Bay near Newcastle and now I live in Harrogate – that felt like coming home to me. I’m from The North, that’s where I’m happiest.
Hull Truck Theatre present the world premiere production of Hull & High Water (1 – 10 July)
By Janet Plater
Directed by Tom Saunders
Performed by John Middleton
Did you hear the one about the bloke who escaped from his care home?
Frank Piddock is on the run. As he hitches his way around Hull, each familiar landmark sparks a memory and the chance to crack a joke. Taking the kids to the Fair…playing for Hull KR at Wembley…standing on the pier with his wife Sylvie…but then the journey starts to take some twists and turns he’d rather forget.
When all the hopes, chances and broken dreams of past and present begin to blur, there’s only one thing Frank can be sure of – his city.
This one-man show by Hull-born playwright Janet Plater (The Gaul) and performed by John Middleton (Emmerdale) is part of Hull Truck Theatre’s Homecomings season, welcoming audiences back to our theatre.
Janet Plater’s The Gaul at Hull Truck Theatre received FOUR STARS from The Guardian, Yorkshire Post, The Stage, Hull Daily Mail and What’s On Stage.
Relaxed performance: Tuesday 6 July, 7.30pm
Captioned performance: Thursday 8 July, 7.30pm
Audio described: Saturday 10 July, 2pm
Livestream: Friday 2 July, 7.30pm
On demand: Saturday 3 July – Saturday 10 July
Recommended age 12+
Running time approx. 60 mins, no interval/break