The Lost Boys bring theatre back to Old Bell Hotel in Derby

Planning tales of highwaymen and past visitors to the Old Bell

Planning tales of highwaymen and past visitors to the Old Bell - Credit: Archant

The current closure of both the Assembly Rooms and Guildhall in the heart of Derby has left a void in the city’s arts scene – but at least one venue is thriving and planning an ambitious programme for 2020

Ben Adwick and Paul Broesmith by the bronze statue of Steve Bloomer next to the home dug-out at Pride Park Stadium

Ben Adwick and Paul Broesmith by the bronze statue of Steve Bloomer next to the home dug-out at Pride Park Stadium - Credit: Archant

The Old Bell on Sadler Gate is a stone's throw from the two mothballed Derby Live venues and thanks to the Lost Boys theatre group is offering a full season of productions.

Pub theatre has been hugely successful in places like London and the Old Bell has the history, atmosphere and different sized rooms to deliver for Derby. Lost Boys, the company created by Paul Broesmith and Ben Adwick, has the expertise to craft engaging pieces of theatre that fit seamlessly into the spaces they are produced for, so are an ideal fit for the venue.

As well as putting on shows at the Old Bell, Lost Boys' work is popular at places like Sudbury Hall and Kedleston Hall and they have built up a loyal audience.

They are now programming four major new shows in 2020 for the Old Bell on top of several dining experiences that will create a vibrant offering in the heart of Derby.

From the Lost Boys production The Creation of Frankenstein

From the Lost Boys production The Creation of Frankenstein - Credit: Archant

A newly-commissioned work will look at the Derby County legend Steve Bloomer and the Lost Boys' acclaimed production of Ears on a Beatle will be back.

The Lost Boys have also penned a tailored show for the Old Bell entitled Confessions of a Stagecoach Driver and they will be offering us a re-telling of the Gothic horror masterpiece Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

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Paul says: 'We have been working with the Old Bell ever since Paul Hurst renovated it. He's done a great job and we just love this building. We have done a lot of immersive and interactive events with him.

'We worked on Scrooge initially for the Christmas market which is now in its fifth year and always sells out.

'About 12 months ago I felt that we could go further and make it a full pub theatre. We believe there is a need and a gap in the market. We looked at the genuine successes there have been in London, Birmingham and Leeds and the nearest to us in Leicester.

'What they haven't got that we have here at the Bell is multiple spaces that can be adapted, which is what the Lost Boys are very good at.

'I pitched the idea to Paul and he gave me carte blanche to go away and create a programme.

'That was in June which was a tight turnaround for a 2020 launch but with the Guildhall and Assembly Rooms being closed I felt it was an opportunity to make sure there was a cultural offering in this area of town ready for when they reopen and which keeps the cultural footfall coming in.'

Paul read 38 plays in three weeks looking for the right shows to programme.

'Some were beyond our means at this time and will have to go on the backburner, some were right and some weren't.

'I also thought about our own back catalogue and what new shows we could create.'

Paul has now put all those ideas into the mixing pot to create the programme, with all shows performed by the Lost Boys.

He said: 'We will be producing all of the work and will be in most of the shows whether it's the two of us together or one of us with other people or directing or whatever is needed.

'It was also about creating a programme that Derby would want to go and see and blending that with audiences for this venue, others in the city and the Lost Boys' following.'

Kicking it all off is An Evening with Steve Bloomer, a newly-commissioned work from writer Peter Roberts that sees two 'experts' delivering a tribute to the Rams and England player.

Paul said: 'I was thinking about the history of Derby and Steve Bloomer just leapt into my head. Peter has written for the Lost Boys three times now and has done a fantastic job.

'Over the last five years we have been broadening the spectrum of our performances and we have been looking at lots of historical and biographical work and this fits into that.'

In June there will be a revival of Ears of a Beatle, which looks at two FBI agents given the job of spying on John Lennon.

Paul said: 'We took that to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe a few years ago and sold out, which is notoriously difficult to do. It's a fascinating play based on redacted files released by the FBI and we are the only company in the UK who have been given permission to produce it.'

In October a new play written by Paul will look at the myths of the highwayman and passengers who might have used the Old Bell as a coaching inn centuries ago. Paul said: 'I wanted to create something specifically for the building. It will also have some of the bawdiness of the Confessions film series.'

In November there will be a fresh take on the enduring horror story Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 'It's a nice fit with the venue and the Lost Boys. We did Frankenstein last year and wanted to look at the creation of the novel as well as the story. Pete Meakin (director) and Peter Roberts (writer) pulled this incredible production together and it was very much where I was trying to drive the Lost Boys. Jekyll and Hyde feels like a continuation of that kind of literary adaptation, it's on the national curriculum so hopefully schools will get on board with it, as well as making it scary, intelligent and humorous for the general public.'

Alongside these shows will be other events such as a Titanic dining experience and a Hammer horror event for Hallowe'en.

Paul said: 'It will be a busy year for us with 11 new things programmed across the region as opposed to three or five normally.'

Paul also said that the Old Bell does now feel like home.

'Paul and the team here have been fantastic and we do feel part of the furniture in many ways. We now rehearse here and use it as a base as well. Everybody here believes in what we are doing and wants to make it a success.

'What is brilliant is that everybody has a passion about making this work for Derby. Both Ben and I are from Derby and we care about the cultural offering in the city. I believe that culture breeds culture so that you aren't competing, but we all benefit each other. We want to be a big part of the cultural ecology in the city.

'We are really privileged to work in buildings like the Old Bell, Sudbury and Kedleston Halls. The places themselves are inspiring and everyone who works in them has a story, they seep out of the fabric of the buildings.

'Further down the line our hope is to see some of the work we make here exported to other parts of the country.'

Working in a pub as opposed to a traditional theatre has both advantages and constraints. Paul said: 'You don't have the wing space and the backstage areas, nor the tech support. You have to look at how you can put the spectacle in there. What the Lost Boys have always tried to do is to create a great night out and our work is intimate by design, which you often don't get in bigger auditoriums. There are inherent challenges but bonuses as well. We want to create a musical but that is really difficult in pub theatre - even then we have two or three that we think will work two or three years down the line.

'The beauty of working in the space daily is that you have a symbiotic relationship with it that enhances the work and makes you want to be ambitious.

'Programming it has been the biggest challenge. I have spoken to a lot of people in the city and visited pub theatres across the UK. I could have said it was going to be risky and ground-breaking like The Swan in London. However, I think you need to strike a balance and add elements of that but also have what we hope are sure-fire winners for Derby audiences - which is why we are starting with Steve Bloomer. We have always tried to bring in non-theatre audiences and we have learned a lot about risk management over the last 12 years.

'With Steve Bloomer we are asking: "Do you like going to the pub? Do you like football? So why not come and see this show about a Derby legend, have a pint and give it a go?" If they like that maybe they like the idea of a show about John Lennon as well.

'Our aim is to create a style and following for the venue as well as for the Lost Boys. We are here to stay, the venue is here to stay. It's not a flash in the plan, we have about 20 options for the next couple of years.

'What would be wonderful is if in two or three years' time we had a thriving arts cultural scene right in the middle of the city and the people of Derby were spoilt for choice. If we can be a part of that I will be really happy.'