Sewell Group Supporting Students in Once in a Lifetime Opportunity on the European Stage

What does Hull have to do with the Spanish Civil War? The new play Ocho, scripted by renowned playwright, director and actor Jane Thornton, is set to tell the story of the eight brave men from Hull who fought in the war and captures the city’s involvement. Only four men returned.

A talented group of drama students at Hull’s Archbishop Sentamu Academy are being given the once in a lifetime opportunity to perform in Ocho, which is the Spanish word for eight. The 18 drama students have been selected to perform at various venues across Hull and the East Riding before taking to the stage at the Institute of the Arts Barcelona, in Spain, this July.

Gary Hammond and Dave Rotheray from the Beautiful South are writing music for the production free of charge, which will see the students work alongside the John Godber Company, who are sponsoring and supporting the project in partnership with Sewell Group.

Alongside sponsorship, six Sewell Group staff – Mel Hutchinson, Helen Lever, Carol Harris, Louise Alexander, Ellie Holder-Bolton and Lucas Meagor – have volunteered to work alongside Jane and the John Godber Company to develop the play while working with the students. From helping to research family history and sourcing the set and costumes, to graphics, script writing and promoting, they will immerse themselves in the creation of the play.

The team have already met with the students and also two relatives of those who fought in the war, which began in 1936 and ended in 1939.

Mel Hutchinson, Document Controller at Sewell Group, volunteered after her daughter, Ffion, starred as an extra in the film Dad’s Army and they share an interest in theatre and drama, she said: “I wanted to volunteer to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, and I felt this was my once in a lifetime opportunity.

“This opportunity and the potential information I could learn will be passed onto my daughter, and hopefully leave her with a cultural legacy from Hull UK City of Culture 2017. When we met the students we’ll be working with, we got to know a little more about them, as well as finding out about those involved in the Spanish Civil War from their relatives. It was quite emotional.

“I also went to watch a recent Archbishop Sentamu Academy production with Ffion and I want to see how the students progress. They are really keen and eager. It will be interesting to see what influence Jane has on them how they are able flourish,” Mel said.

Lucy Riley, Head of Drama at Archbishop Sentamu Academy, said: “We are so excited that our students have the opportunity to work on Ocho with the incredible Jane Thornton.

“When we set up our Spotlight Programme for our drama students in the Academy, we wanted to give our amazing students the chance to gain experience of the professional arts industry – and this project has far surpassed any expectations we had.

“This is largely down to the support of Jane Thornton and Gary Hammond, and the families of the eight men who have allowed us to tell their captivating and inspiring story.

“The students at Archbishop Sentamu are second to none and possess the most incredible talent and commitment. They have a thirst to prove themselves and a passion to achieve greatness.

“This project will allow their dreams to become more accessible to them and help them to see they can become a reality. To be able to take them to perform in Barcelona is something they will never ever forget. This project really could change lives.”

The students said they are grasping the opportunity with both hands and can’t wait to see where the journey takes them as they pursue their performance ambitions.

Year 12 Spotlight Performing Arts Scholar Beth Murrell, 16, said: “The chance Ocho is providing is something we never even dreamed of. We are getting to do what we love most on the biggest stage and, as aspiring actors, that’s all we have ever wanted.”

Fellow scholar Aleesha Neill, also 16, said: “Ocho will provide opportunities that many young people my age don’t receive. We are helping to bring back forgotten history while working with theatre professionals. It will be an amazing experience.”

Jane, who is married to playwright John Godber, said she has been overwhelmed by the support received for Ocho, with sponsorship from the Sewell Group, as well as other businesses and individuals such as Lord John Prescott and Unite the Union, who have recognised the potential.

She said: “Gary Hammond approached us with the story and was trying to raise awareness so a permanent memorial to the men could be built in Hull. Archbishop Sentamu then came forward with their Spotlight Programme and it seemed right to join the two together in a play.

“At a time when the arts are being cut in schools, it’s heart-warming that a school is saying ‘this is what we are good at, we want to celebrate it and support our students’. This project will help prepare the students to go in to the real world of the arts as they will have worked with professionals at every level including theatre technicians, marketing people and a professional set designer.

“From an aspirational perspective, it’s massive, and the fact that businesses and individuals can see that and want to support it is fantastic.

“It’s about starting something in Hull that’s just the beginning, which will change these students’ lives and help them on their way.”

Ocho will be performed at Archbishop Sentamu Academy from 27 to 30 June, at Kardomah94 in Hull city centre on 4 July, Howden Shire Hall no 5 July and East Riding Theatre in Beverley on 6 July, before performing in Barcelona on 11 July 11.