Mon 13 Jun 2022

These Hills Are Ours: An interview with Daniel Bye and Boff Whalley

“I hope people don’t look at the show and think it’s just about two blokes running,” says theatre maker Dan Bye.

“I mean, I’d go and see that show, but this isn’t just that.”

Boff Whalley adds: “The bottom line for everything we do is that we’re going ‘here’s lots of ideas and philosophy and thought and politics’ but actually, it’s entertainment, first and foremost.”

Time spent with Whalley and Bye is thought-provoking, entertaining and worthwhile.

Boff Whalley and Dan Bye are theatre makers who are collaborating, not for the first time, on a new show called These Hills Are Ours.

Over the course of an hour talking about the show, it becomes clear that These Hills Are Ours is going to be about an awful lot more than running.

“I want the show to serve as a reminder to people that when they go out into the countryside, they are walking in the footsteps of a history and a culture of people who have opened up those paths for all of us. Anyone who goes walking in the Peak District for example, I’d love it if they knew that a time not that long ago, you couldn’t and I’d love it if they knew where that came from and why they now can,” says Whalley.

Bye chips in: “That’s particularly important, that we’re telling this story now, when a lot of hard won victories feel fragile.
“Nye Bevin said the NHS will survive as long as there are people with the strength to fight for it and I think that can be applied to just about any improvement that has been gained by progressive movements in any sphere.”

Rousing stuff.

Bye and Whalley were first brought together in 2009 when the latter wrote Play Up, Play Up, a theatre piece performed as part of the I Love West Leeds Festival. Bye was brought in to direct and it was a happy creative partnership.

Bye is a well regarded theatre maker whose solo hit shows include The Price of Everything, Going Viral and the hit 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show Arthur, which saw his baby son take centre stage.

Whalley was the songwriter and member of anarchist pop band Chumbawamba, still best remembered for their world-conquering hit Tubthumping. He’s since become a highly regarded writer of musicals for theatre.

They are both a little obsessed with running. They are also two socially engaged, socially conscious theatre makers. How to combine the two?

Bye says: “We started with the idea of running from the centre of a town or a city to the peak overlooking that city. It was a way of exploring the relationship between urban and rural and the nature of that journey. Usually people drive to a rural place, go for a walk then drive back to the uban place but there’s something interesting and different that happens on that journey. It’s also an exploration of the fact that we’re allowed to go to rural space because of things like the Kinder trespass and other historical acts of protest.”

The Kinder Mass Trespass was an act of wilful trespass by ramblers and members of the Young Communist League on Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire Peak District in 1932.

Bye adds: “There are plenty of other places like that in the country where thousands of people trespassed over the course of many years until the laws of access gradually changed, so it’s a celebration of the fact that we are allowed to do that.”

Whalley says: “It’s also about the idea that we live in times when we are bombarded by digital technology and our notion of landscape and commonality and doing things together has changed. We think that includes looking at a screen when in fact there’s this great groundswell of people doing things with other people – going out walking, running and cycling, gardening, sewing and baking. All these activities are booming, because people are running away from just being on call 24 hours a day.”

There’s a lot for these two to say and a lot going into the show. So how to turn it into compelling theatre?

Bye is going to run. For 24 hours. From his house in Lancaster, crossing the Forest of Bowland, the Pennine Way and going all the way to Kinder Scout. Whalley will meet him along the way in a support vehicle – and then tour the country telling some of the story of what happened, along with the Kinder Trespass tale and a lot more. And there will be songs, composed by Whalley.

Bye says: “The show is just a mechanism for exploring the countryside. It’s about the transition along the way and the urge to escape 21st century life or your difficult childhood or the constraints of class, it’s a celebration of what’s been won for you by the people who went before you. It’s about all of those things and running is just our way of celebrating that.”

By Nick Ahad, writer and boradcaster.

The national tour of These Hills Are Ours takes in most of the country and at each stop Bye and Whalley will invite the audience to join them for a daily run.

These Hills Are Ours is at Theatre by the Lake on Thu 23 June, you can book your tickets here.