YORK community arts collective Next Door But One are taking part in the 2023 TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal next week, performing a revival of Operation Hummingbird.
NDB1 premiered artistic director Matt Harper-Hardcastle’s one-act two-hander to sold-out audiences in the socially distanced summer of 2021. Now, buoyed by being among 984 arts organisations to be granted National Portfolio (NPO) status by Arts Council England and winning the award for Resilience and Innovation at the 2023 Visit York Tourism Awards, they have launched their new programme.
“It’s quite apt that our first touring production as an NPO is Operation Hummingbird,” says Matt. “‘We’ve spent ten years working hard, dreaming big and forging fruitful partnerships. That’s how we got here. Now we’re looking into the future and are so excited for what the next three years hold. A reflective, hopeful story about looking back and looking ahead feels perfect for now.”
Already this month NDB1 have staged Operation Hummingbird in library performances York Explore, Haxby Explore, Clifton Explore, Tang Hall Explore and Acomb Explore, from May 9 to 12, and now they are heading to the theatre and arts centre circuit.
Midday and 7pm performances on May 23 and 24 on York Theatre Royal’s main stage will be followed by Pocklington Arts Centre on May 25 and Helmsley Arts Centre on June 2, both at 7.30pm.
“I realised it could work as a main-house piece when I watched Pilot Theatre’s Run Rebel, when they had sold only the stalls, but there was something nice about playing a performance to the stalls,” says Matt. “We’ll make it intimate by using only the front half of the stage, working with a new lighting designer, Abi Turner, from London, who has designed previously for the Donmar Warehouse.”
Based on his own memoir of living with loss, Matt’s two-hander tells the story of teenager Jimmy, who is dealing with his mum’s terminal diagnosis by diving into computer games. Through this virtual reality, he meets his future self and asks: will everything turn out OK?
“Operation Hummingbird is a humorous and uplifting exploration of grief, loss and noticing just how far you’ve come,” says Matt, whose cast features NDB1 associate artist James Lewis-Knight, returning in the role of Jimmy, and Scarborough actor David Lomond, joining the company for the first time to play James, the future version of Jimmy, 35 more years on the clock.
“For me, the concept is: this play is a really specific look at terminal illness, death and bereavement, but the narrative is universal. If we could fast-forward time and then be able to go back, older and wise, to stop our younger self by passing on advice. We’ve all had those questions that our older selves would like to have been able to give the answer to our younger selves.”
The two-hander format is ideal, suggests Matt. “After Covid, people are wanting shorter shows – this one is only 50 minutes – where you don’t have to travel far to see it and you could even see it at lunchtime if you went to a library performance.
“We’ve brought Operation Hummingbird back after we had brilliant feedback from the first run, when we had only just come out of Covid restrictions and so only small, socially distanced audiences were allowed.
“For the 2023 revival, we decided we’d go to the satellite Explore York libraries we didn’t play before. Now we’ve been able to pick up the project and say, ‘we know it works but what’s the full iteration?’.
“That means also performing it on the Theatre Royal main stage and taking it to Pocklington and Helmsley. It’s actually our first ever show at the Theatre Royal because we’ve never looked into doing one there before, as the heart of our work is taking it to the community, places on people’s doorsteps, such as libraries, community centres and the Camphill Village Trust (with our show The Firework-Maker’s Daughter).”
Matt continues: “It feels like a significant moment of growth for us. We’re known to the communities we engage with, like the Snappy Trust and York Carers Centre, who appreciate our values, and this revival is an introductory chance for us to say, ‘if you don’t know our work, this is what we do’.
“One of the first pieces of feedback we had was someone saying, ‘I can’t believe how much you can tell in a story with so little. We’re the opposite of doing big-scale theatre productions. It’s still a big story, about death and bereavement, and for me, as a director, the main thing has to be the story.
“You could detract from it with a big set and a light show, so we tell a story with three boxes, a few props and two actors and no blackouts of the auditorium. The focus is on the story.”
Matt concludes: “There’s something in this show for everyone. I hope I have turned a story that started from a very personal place – with the sudden death of my mum in 2016 – into something that we can all relate to. I know that audiences in 2021 left entertained and reflective about their own life. I hope we can achieve the same this time, but reach an even bigger audience across the region.”
Tickets for all venues can be booked at www.nextdoorbutone.co.uk. Also: York Theatre Royal, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Pocklington, 01759 301547 or pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk; Helmsley, 01439 771700 or helmsleyarts.co.uk.
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