Combining drama and history to reveal the fascinating story of Truro’s City Hall
Hall For Cornwall junior youth theatre member Seth loves drama and history. They are his favourite subjects at school. So what better way to spend a Saturday morning than joining 26 other members of HFC’s youth theatre group to tell the fascinating story of Truro City Hall through a series of special performances on Lemon Quay.
Part of our Revealing City Hall project, outdoor performances by the youth theatre group, and the junior and senior dance groups bought the 175 year history of this iconic building to life in front of crowds of enthusiastic local residents and visitors to the city.
Built in 1847, the Grade II* listed City Hall building has been the engine of Truro’s civic, cultural and social life. From hosting Cornwall’s Stannary parliament to offering a space for today’s city council and coroner’s court, the building has also been used as a cinema, a fire and police station, a market, a rifle rage and a roller rink. Under the watchful eye of our historic clock, whose minute hand has ticked more than 90 million times, the City Hall has seen cattle shows, fashion events and even baby bathing competitions.
Over twenty years ago the building became home to Hall for Cornwall. Since then some of the country’s best musicians, dancers, actors, comedians, storytellers and activists have been welcomed through our doors. From Freddy Mercury’s first Queen gig and Morrissey’s pre-performance meat market antics to our much-loved Christmas show trilogy, serious entertainers have wowed audiences on our stage.
“Our Revealing City Hall project is all about sharing the hidden stories of the building and celebrating its rich history through a programme of theatrical events and activities “ said HFC’s Get Creative Director Helen Tiplady, who is leading the National Lottery Heritage Funded project. “Over the past 10 weeks we have been working with our youth theatre and dance groups to develop special pieces to bring specific elements of its history to life.”
With support from Heritage Outreach Officer Kim Healey, and the youth theatre team including Simon Harvey, Rob Mennear and Suzie West, the 27 members of the junior youth theatre group told the story of the construction of the original building, and its many uses, right though to opening of Hall For Cornwall and the first performance of rock group Queen, then known as “Smile”. The confident youngsters gave four performances during the Saturday morning, drawing large enthusiastic crowds of onlookers.
“This has been a great project to be part of “said director Simon Harvey. “By reinterpreting history in different ways, and adding a sprinkling of irreverence, we can bring it to life and help people to remember it.
“The building has particular importance for members of HFC’s youth groups and it has been fantastic to watch them taking what they have learnt about the history of the building and using it to shape their individual performances”.
11 year old Seth certainly agrees. The drama and history enthusiast has thoroughly enjoyed working on the project which brought his two favourite subjects together. He also liked performing outdoors which he said provided a different atmosphere to performing in a theatre.
For 11 year old Leland, who took the role of the Truro Mayor who commissioned the construction of the original building, learning about its history was one of the best parts of the project even if he had trouble believing some of its previous uses. “I thought some of the things were made up when I first heard them “ he said. “I could not believe it had been a roller rink – but apparently that is true. “
A member of the group for the past three years, Leland also enjoyed performing outdoors for the first time. The chance to perform outdoors also proved popular with seven year old Raphael, and with 11 year old Ben, who said that although it was a bit scary at first, they soon forgot their nerves in the excitement of the performance.
“Learning about the history of the building was really fun “ added 8 year old Jasmine who helped tell the story of the Suffragettes who left the City Hall to travel to London. “Although I had quite a lot of lines to learn, it was really interesting to learn about what had happened”.
One of the key strengths of HFC’s youth theatre group is creating a friendly and supportive atmosphere which gives all the youngsters the chance to perform – regardless of their age and experience.
For nine year old Lamorna and 10 year old Huxley, the chance to make friends and not be worried about making mistakes has helped make them more confident. “I love coming to the classes and meeting new people “ said Lamorna . “It means that when you perform new pieces like today you know you are going to be doing it with your friends” “ It was scary performing the piece outdoors for the first time “ added Huxley. “But I knew that if I made a mistake it would not matter as there were other people there to help me. “
It was then the turn of HFC’s dance companies to take to the temporary outdoor performance area on Lemon Quay.
With choreography from Lauren Syrett and Sarah Fairhall, in her last session with the group, the performance by the junior youth dance group told the story of the building from the construction of the ever ticking clock through its various incarnations as a cinema and a roller rink through dance “Dance really lends itself to explore themes and showcase imagery through movement. The group have really enjoyed creating dances based on the uses of the building’ said Sarah Fairhall
Members of the senior dance group then used dance to tell the story of women saying goodbye to their fathers, brothers and sweethearts during the second world war followed by a second piece showing how they coped during the Blitz. Both pieces, choreographed by the young people with support from Rob Mennear and Suzie West, were incredibly powerful and emotional.
‘Our dance and theatre groups are so important to us here at HFC” said Rob Mennear. “It is great they’re exploring our past and re telling it to inform our future.’
Members of the public also had the opportunity to follow a story trail around Truro highlighting hidden stories about the building and the city. Animated by The Story Republicans, the 50 minute trail included encounters with a burning clock and escaping bulls, romantic dances and the magistrates gavel.
“Through our ambitious National Lottery Heritage Fund project we have been able to work with Story Republic and have thoroughly loved working with them” said Helen Tiplady. “We’ve been in to four local schools and two community groups creating the material for the trail. The way they brought the pop up performances to life was a real joy to watch.
“It was so great watching Truronians hear the tales of their city. The young people’s faces lit up when they heard their words being read aloud. I really think we should do it all again next year!’