Hull theatre group thinking outside the box for ABP performance

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 1 Mar 2017

A piece of theatre created by a Hull playwright and centred around life on the city's docks of the 1970s has been performed for the bosses of the UK's leading port operator.

The Box, written by Rob Bell, was commissioned by Associated British Ports (ABP) for its management conference at the Port of Cardiff.

Jens Skibsted, a member of ABP's board of directors, said: "This play has all the challenges we face today and it was an innovative way of raising them and getting the team to talk things through."

Mr Bell, whose theatre group The History Troupe is due to stage a sold-out performance of The Box at Hull's Kardomah94 tonight, and at Grimsby's Franklin College later this week, said: "The Box is rooted in Hull with universal relevance.

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"The idea of performing it for the ABP conference was to raise the issues with their 180-strong top management team."There was a Q&A after the performance – it was longer than the play itself."

Mr Bell, who is a logistics and supply chain specialist with a keen interest in frontier markets, rooted his fictional tale in the banter and the cargoes of the docks of the time.

He felt it had both enlightened and entertained the ABP bosses, and was received very well.

"Across Britain, industries were struggling to adapt to new technologies and, with containerisation, the Hull docks were in the frontline of challenging times," he said.

"This is the era of Wilson, Heath and Mike Yarwood, the three-day week and labour unrest across steel, mining and the dock industries at home and the Vietnam War overseas."

Mr Bell was given free access to ABP's photographic archive from the 1930s to the 1970s, which became the platform for wide-ranging discussions with crane drivers, chargehands, dockers and even a barber.

"As someone with a keen interest in logistics and port operations I asked to see any of the archive they may have.

"This became the trigger for work on a calendar using the images and then used during a series of sessions with retired dockers.

"During the session, I used the photographs to explore their memories. This was a treasure trove of words and stories that are rarely heard – like any industry, there is a specific vocabulary – and the stories were shaped into characters and from there to dialogue and the play."

Mr Bell said: "Andre Fenton, of Inter Tech, gave me a lot of support with this whole area."ABP have been terrific throughout and are keen to re-engage with retired dockers and are open to exploring more ideas that have been tabled.

"Samskip have been a great help – they are bringing a container to Franklin College for us this week."

Mr Bell said The Box is part of a World of Work series, using drama to explore challenging issues within a business and in the wider community.

He has contacts in the Great Lakes and in Scandinavia who have voiced an interest in the series.

"The History Troupe has already performed in Ohio in the US," said Mr Bell. "The point is that the North of England has strong parallels with other regions where industrialisation first took hold.

"These are the places commonly termed 'left behind' and these issues of technology and livelihoods are a major concern."

He said The Box also worked in a non-port environment because it opened up all sorts of career and business context insights for students at school.

"The reality is that the challenge of the digital technologies of the fourth industrial revolution is a major issue across all sectors and communities.

"The Hull narrative tends towards 'fish'; The Box explores 'cargo' as a major dimension that needs more attention and the same applies in other sectors.

"After all, Hull's business history is characterised by a widely diversified industrial base."

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