Alan Lane is Artistic Director and driving force behind the theatre company Slung Low, which was set up in order to facilitate large theatrical performances in spaces which are not normally used for such events. As they put it, ‘We make theatre adventures in unlikely places.’
Adam describes himself as a ‘forces brat’, having been brought up on several RAF bases before going to Sheffield University, where he met Matthew Scott. After graduating, he came to his senses and moved to Leeds where he worked at West Yorkshire Playhouse as a director. It was at that time that the idea for Slung Low came to fruition and in 2000, the two friends began working from units in Bath Road under a couple of railway arches. He also manifested his impeccable taste by marrying a Leeds lass.
Some of the previous productions have been Flood, by James Philips, which was a year-long epic for Hull, UK City of Culture, told on-line, live in Hull and on BBC2. Over half a million people saw a part of the work and it won a Royal Television Society Yorkshire Award for excellence. More recent works have taken place in Hull, York, Sheffield and Leeds, where they put on The White Whale, a retelling of Moby Dick. They have even taken theatre back to Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2016, they built a camp of artists in the grounds of the RSC, creating a ceremony which attempted to open the portal to the fairy world.
The company eventually outgrew the original premises and when they learned that Holbeck Working Men’s Club was running short of volunteers to keep it going, they decided to take up residence there.
Holbeck WMC is the oldest Working Men’s Club in the country, being formed in 1877, so, rather than see it lost, they decided to run it as a members’ pub and use the large rooms for various events. The downstairs is just as it would have been, right down to the bingo machine in the concert room so I jokingly asked if they still had ‘turns’ on Sunday nights, as was the practice in the 1970s. ‘In a way,’ Alan said, but this being the second decade of the twenty-first century, they have guest companies put on a performance every other Sunday at 5.00pm in one of the upstairs rooms. The first floor houses the 250 seat Cabaret Room, along with smaller spaces which can be used for various purposes. Their prime function was, and still is, theatre spaces for those who needed them, but they have now been put to more general use.
As time went by they decided that the next move would be to open a community college to maximise the potential of the building and so, as well as being theatre spaces, the Cabaret Room doubles as a classroom, as do the other rooms on that level, and there is a double-decker bus in the car park which, in addition to its being used for the purpose for which it was constructed, also acts as classrooms.
Holbeck Community College is just completing its second term, with a third beginning in May. The subjects for study are as varied as you would expect, ranging from cycling skills and maintenance, performing skills and plastering, through to yoga and bridge. All of the workshops are supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and charged on a Pay What You Decide basis, so everyone is catered for. Being a foodie, my choice would be the step-by-step guide to cooking Indian vegetarian street food which is run by Manjit’s Kitchen.
Alan is very grateful for the assistance of the Arts Council and the powers that be, both in London and locally for supporting them, and he senses a shift in attitude towards ventures such as these. It is good to see people concentrating on the things which bring communities together rather than those which drive them apart.
Slung Low is very pleased with the Holbeck premises and privileged to be custodian of such an iconic and significant building. When asked about future plans, Alan said that they were here for the long haul and wanted to consolidate on the progress made so far and then expand it to facilitate even more use by the community.
Finally, I couldn’t leave without asking him about the origin of name of the company. He said that it was a sort of nickname that he and Matthew picked up whilst at university, as their cheap trousers were always sagging at the waist and therefore slung low.
More information on Slung Low’s performances and the Community College can be found here.