These Hills Are Ours

Daniel Bye and Boff Whalley
ARC Stockton
York Theatre Royal

Boff Whalley and Daniel Bye Credit: Nigel Armitage

After years of working together on various projects, writer-performer Daniel Bye and musician Boff Whalley (of Chumbawamba fame) have now collaborated on a show that celebrates their shared love of running. However, the end result is much more ambitious than this description suggests.

Not only does These Hills Are Ours celebrate the joys of friendship and nature, it also engages with British political history and the works of French philosopher Guy Debord, who argued that authentic living has been replaced with an attractive but ultimately hollow simulacrum.

After some relaxed banter with the audience, including discussion of the main difference between hills and mountains (cue obligatory reference to Hugh Grant), Bye and Whalley describe their childhood preoccupation with nearby hills. For Teesside-born Bye, Roseberry Topping held a distinct fascination, while Bury native Whalley had similar feelings for Pendle. In both cases, the performers’ younger selves craved an escape from ordinary life through the beauty and calm of the natural world.

The main part of the production centres on two subjects. The first is a 90-mile run conducted by Bye; unfortunately, Whalley was unable to join in because of a broken toe. This tale of physical and mental endurance is brought to vivid life through Bye’s masterful storytelling, with Whalley’s songs offering a catchy and melodic counterpoint.

The second is the real-life story of the Kinder mass trespass of 1932, which saw ramblers and members of the Young Communist League wilfully intruding on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. This act of civil disobedience was committed in order to highlight the fact that walkers in England and Wales were denied access to areas of open countryside.

Ultimately, the Kinder mass trespass was a success, paving the way for future legislation that would open up parts of the country that were previously forbidden to the general public.

These Hills Are Ours is defiantly no frills, with the two men spending most of the show’s 90-minute running time sat on chairs behind standing mikes. This is not a hindrance, however, as the lo-fi nature of the production adds to its warmth and charm.

While the summer tour has now come to an end, additional dates will be added in autumn. Funny, poignant and thought-provoking, These Hills Are Ours combines storytelling and song to winning effect.

Reviewer: James Ballands