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Artwork by Patrick DolanMore Information

Playing Nottingham – ‘Our Style is Legendary’

Image Provided courtesy Dan Hoffman-Gill

Unlike many other fairly small UK cities, people around the world recognize the name ‘Nottingham’. Be it for the enduring legend of Robin Hood or for the accolades of twice-European cup winners Nottingham Forest Football Club. Whatever the reason, Nottingham has made a name for itself and with its industrial heritage to support it and help shape its ‘character’, a number of famous names have spurred from this city and enhanced its reputation for creativity – invention and innovation.

Nottingham of today continues to develop this reputation, and non-more so than through the homegrown actor/producer talents of Daniel Hoffmann-Gill.

To see him, many of you would probably recognise Dan from TV.  He has appeared on countless commercials, worked on projects for the BBC, done theatre and more recent feature films.

Most exciting is his new play – ‘Our Style is Legendary’ – written to depict the coming of age experiences of two friends who became brothers and the humour of life growing-up in 1980s Nottingham.

It sees its premier on stage at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London on 14th March 2011. Its tongue-in-cheek title will escape many, but I think provides a little insight into the kind of ‘real’ Nottingham humour we can expect to see threaded throughout this masterpiece. (Graphic poster shown left, provided courtesy of DHG).

Excited about the prospect of a play about Nottingham, I caught up with Dan to ask him a few questions about his latest creation. 

What gave you the inspiration to write a play about growing up in Nottingham? My best friend died when he was 16, we were the same age and it struck me at the time that he wouldn’t be remembered and I wanted to tell our story to anyone that would listen. That was nearly 20 years ago so it’s took a while to get it out of me but Michael is the inspiration.

Did you have specific actors in mind to play each character, as you were writing it?  No, because I’ve been writing it for a long time but when I knew it was happening, which was about 12 months ago, I really wanted to see James Hooton involved as The Swinging Man, the only adult in the whole show, who is a personification of Nottingham. Thankfully he said yes when we asked him, although he insisted we audition him to make sure he was right and he was. When I heard him read the part it made me cry.

What was your earliest memory of Nottingham?  I was born here, City Hospital! And proud of it. Earliest memory of Notts is how steep all the roads were between Porchester Road and Westdale Lane, as a small boy they were like Everest. Brilliant in the snow, in a treacherous way.

What do you think makes Nottingham so special to the people that live here?  The East Midlands as a whole is pretty unique and Nottingham is the capital of that uniqueness. It’s what I’ve said in the play, it’s not North, not South but all Notts. Our unique identity, accent and phrasing makes us proud I reckon.

What do you think makes Nott’m folk different from people elsewhere?  Not sure how different we are but I suppose we’re very friendly and open but on the other hand we can be very sarcastic and guarded, a real mix of typical Northern and Southern qualities means we get the best of both. I also reckon our economy shaped us, a mix of pits and manufacturing and service and big industry. Also we’re pretty big for our boots for a provincial city.

How do you think Nott’m of the 80s – depicted in your play – differs from the city of today?  Massively, poverty was a large problem and the city was coming to terms with the rise of the yuppie and this gaping void between haves and have-nots. Also, although I’m proud of Nottingham’s ethnic minority history, it’s far more diverse now than it was then. Some things change, some things stay the same and I think many of the themes are relevant now, young men still like to do the same stuff then as they do now.

Are the characters in your new play based on real ‘proper Nottm’ folk you knew as a boy?  Yep, all the characters are true, real people, some of the dialogue is verbatim as I can remember it, everything that you see as the spectator actually happened and the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. I know that when some folk come and see it they’ll be shocked by it’s honestly and truth.

What sums up the Nott’m personality through your characters?  A sense of humour, a sense of fun but a darkness there, a willingness to use violence if required. We’re a hard people.

Are you proud to tell people in the world of TV and Hollywood that you’re a Nott’m boy?  Yes, I wear my Nottingham-ness like a badge of honour, it’s unique, part of me and I never hide it, I find it useful; most people have a connection with Notts.

What response do you receive when you say you grew up in Nott’m?  If they know the city they ask me where and when I say St. Ann’s their eye brows go up and they usually say summat about it being rough. If they don’t know the place, most people mention Robin Hood or the myth that we’ve got lots of gun crime, that kind of thing. Someone needs to get marketing Nottingham better, hopefully my play will do a better job.

Being now a successful actor-type, you live and work around the globe – do you think Nottingham has a good reputation for being a creative city these days?  I had to leave Nottingham to take my career to the next level, sad but true and I’ve been in exile for 6 years or so and that means I can’t really answer that question. I think there are a lot of creative people there, obviously, I think our city makes creative people, just that I think they go to London, you have to, it’s where everything is. Wish it wasn’t that way.

Do you plan to bring the show up north, to face a Nott’m audience? What reaction do you think you would receive?  I’d love to bring Our Style is Legendary home, I think Nottingham folk would love it, we need a show like this that shows the reality of it without mentioning Robin Hood or any of the other easy tag lines. It should be on at the Playhouse so if people can nag Giles Croft to put a show on by Notts, about Notts featuring all Notts actors that would be much appreciated. We’d bring the roof down. Literally.

Let’s hope Dan’s wishes come true – and we all get to see this on stage in Nottingham too!

Our Style is Legendary
Tristan Bates Theatre, London
From 14th March 2011 @7.30pm
Tickets cost from £10 to £14 and are available from the website: www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk