New play tells the story of the Hull volunteers

Post date: 29/04/2017

Ocho tells the story of eight men from Hull who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Jane Thornton is a BAFTA-winning playwright and she has worked with local historians and relatives of the eight men to weave together this fascinating tale, not only of the men but of the wives they left behind. 


Beginning in Hull in 1936 and set against the background of the Depression, the play evokes memories of picnics in East Park, the tannery, the docks and the joy of washing day! Facing the challenge of unemployment and the rise of fascism, James Bentley and Robert Wardle decide to take a train from Paragon Station in Hull and travel to London, through France and over the Pyrenees on foot to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. 


They leave behind their wives Kitty and Maggie and three small children who, despite the struggles of the time, remain optimistic and hopeful for their husbands’ return. With specially composed songs by Dave Rotheray of the Beautiful South (‘I Need a Little Time’, ‘Don’t Marry Her Marry Me’) and design by Lucy Weller (National Theatre, Royal Court), Ocho is performed by the Spotlight Ensemble from Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull. 


With ever increasing cuts to the arts and severe lack of support from the government at a time when young people need it most to help deal with academic pressures and self-belief, pursuing a career in the arts can seem unachievable for young people from a disadvantaged area. The Spotlight Scholarship programme was set up at Archbishop Sentamu School in September 2016 to encourage gifted and talented pupils in the performing arts. Pupils from year 10-13 are selected for the programme due to their outstanding talent and raw potential. Each week they have an additional 75-minute lesson on their timetable to develop their performance skills enabling the school to teach more advanced techniques and bring in professionals from the arts industry to conduct workshops.



Jane Thornton


Having worked with John Godber and Jane Thornton on projects in the past, the school approached them to help with an idea to launch the scholarship programme. They had been told the story of the eight men by musician Gary Hammond (drummer with the Beautiful South and The Hut People) who was seeking a platform to honour them and their achievements. Thus, the two ideas came together and Jane set about writing a play that would give the students an opportunity to work with professionals on all areas of the production and the chance to perform not just in school but in professional spaces across the city. 


Through his connections as a fellow at Liverpool John Moore University, John Godber was able to organise taking the play to the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona. Eighteen pupils will travel out to Spain on 10 July and as well as performing they will enjoy cultural tours of Barcelona and areas relevant to the Spanish Civil War.


Jane Thornton has given her time freely to write and direct this project, as have David Rotheray and Gary Hammond to compose the music. Other creatives are working at vastly reduced fees. This project has only been made possible by the generous donations from companies and individuals in Hull who have been inspired by the talent of these wonderful young people.  


We would particularly like to thank Sewells, Lord Prescott and John Godber, the City Council and the Lord Mayor of Hull, the Unite Union and others who wish to remain anonymous for making this all possible. 


There is a small plaque in the Guildhall in Hull that commemorates the bravery of the eight men who went to Spain. The Hull International Brigades Memorial group are currently fund-raising in order to build a permanent memorial in the city.


Ocho will be performed this year at:

– Archbishop Sentamu School on 27-30 June

– Kardomah Theatre Hull on 4 July

– Howden Shire Hall on 5 July

– East Riding Theatre, Beverley on 6 July

– Institute of the Arts, Sitges, near Barcelona, on 11 July.


To book to see ‘Ocho’, go to:

Archbishop Sentamu Academy 27-30 June: 

Howden Shire Hall 5 July:

ERT East Riding Theatre 6 July:




Posted on 29 April 2017 and updated on 6 May 2017.

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