On the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, Hope Theatre Company return to award-winning Hope Mill Theatre to celebrate the life of Martyn Hett, with their empowering and inspiring play, #BeMoreMartyn.
First performed in October 2017 to sell-out audiences, Hope Theatre Company have developed the play further to create a unique piece of verbatim theatre using the words and stories of eight of Martyn’s closest friends taking a closer look at what exactly it means to #BeMoreMartyn.
We visited rehearsals where we spoke to writer and director Adam Zane who took us back to last May when he first became aware of Martyn Hett, “When people started to share statuses and tweets that Martyn was missing I started to see his face so much and realised he knew so many of my friends and I soon started realising how things are connected and feel that connection myself, as the days went on I realised in that past year I’d been watching his videos and sharing them on Facebook. I was on the train going down to Brighton as we had a show on at the fringe when I got a message confirming Martyn had been found and I remember just crying on the train but thinking this is ridiculous to be crying over someone you don’t know but I think for me as a gay man who lives in Manchester, who goes to the gay village, he was someone who was obviously loved by so many different people and it really got to me, I felt like we’d lost someone from our community.”
It was when Adam arrived in Brighton for a show that evening he really felt as a Manchester theatre company it was important to mark the heart-breaking news of Martyn’s passing somehow, “A minutes silence just didn’t feel appropriate so we led the audience in a minutes round of applause, because we strongly felt he absolutely deserved celebrating.”
Adam attended Martyn’s funeral in support of his friends and was incredibly touched by just how important Martyn was to so many people, “That’s when I started to hear the most amazing stories; there was a lot of laughter. Michelle McManus was amazing, his boss from Rumpus PR told the most amazing account of Martyn, we were crying with laughter at these incredible stories and I just thought these stories and these incredible memories of Martyn would be beautiful on stage.”
The question what does #BeMoreMartyn mean was the thing that hooked Adam and seeing it trending on Twitter confirmed to him that was what the play needed to be about, “#BeMoreMartyn was trending worldwide and that made me really wonder, what does that mean? What was it about this young man that we should be so inspired by? I was so overwhelmed by the stories Martyn’s friends have told me, how personally they were transformed by this man, it sounds like a really over the top thing to say but he really did do that to people.”
Adam describes how he quickly began forming a picture of Martyn through the generosity of his friends and their willingness to share their own personal memories. “There’s a lovely story in the play where Hannah, Martyn’s roommate says she felt more validated as a human being by Martyn than anyone else in the world and I think that’s what he did, he never tried to change people he just always said ‘be yourself’. Another character says ‘he gave me my life in Manchester’ a lot of the time if people were having a bad time in another city he would say come to Manchester and they would, they would move their lives to be nearer to Martyn so there’s this huge circle of friends all connected via Martyn. To have that openness and generosity of spirit when most of us just go about our day to day lives is something I think about a lot.”
Adam has been mindful throughout the entire creative process to ensure every element of this project has been done with the utmost of respect for Martyn, his memory, his family and his friends and through his work with those closest to Martyn has gained a great knowledge of just how important Martyn was to so many. “We were so nervous about Martyn’s family and friends reaction and we just desperately wanted to do him justice and honour him, when they came out from the show in October they said it was like spending a couple of hours with Martyn again, that for me is what I wanted, I wanted people to feel like they’d had a night out on Canal St with Martyn and that they knew him a bit better. I said to Martyn’s Mum the other day although I never met him I now feel that he’s a really important part of my life. He is continuing to change people in many different ways, he’s absolutely changed me, this year has been all about Martyn really. I feel so honoured and was really amazed at the amount of trust Martyn’s friends and family put in us, they have been so generous in allowing us to continue his legacy.”
The show opens at Hope Mill Theatre on Monday 21st May and runs until Saturday 26th May; from here it heads to Brighton Fringe then to London’s Southwalk Playhouse on 3rd June. Beyond this Hope Theatre Company have great ambitions for the play which celebrates both friendship and living life to its absolute fullest. “We have huge ambitions for this play, for us this is just the beginning, we want to take it across the country, we want to take it internationally, the dream would be to take it to New York, for me the play is also about how a city stands up to a terrorist attack. I think it would be really interesting for New Yorkers to see how a group of Mancunians dealt with such a terrible event and also how they dealt with their grief and of course separate to that can you imagine Martyn Hett’s name in lights on Broadway, how amazing.”
The clear message from #BeMoreMartyn is absolutely celebrating and living life to the full, while being proud of who you are, something Martyn undoubtedly was, Adam explained, “I knew very early on there were so many things to celebrate about Martyn, some things that people may even think are quite small but I feel really are a joy for example how much he unashamedly loved things, he loved Corrie, he loved Michelle McManus, he loved Mariah and he was so proud of the things that he loved. I remember as a child, as a teenager and even sometimes as an adult not admitting to things I like because I don’t know what people might think of that and how ridiculous is that? Why not scream loud and proud about the things that you love. As a gay man and someone who works with you LGBT children in schools I see every month children who are struggling, I know that they can watch this play and think if Martyn could do it then so could I, he can continue to inspire people to be more confident about themselves and I really hope feel empowered by his message.”
Following on from the original production performed at Hope Mill Theatre back in October Adam and fellow producer Mike Lee went back and re-interviewed Martyn’s friends, while the first interviews were very raw the second round of interviews allowed Martyn’s friend an opportunity to reflect, while it’s not a case of moving on, there has been an opportunity for moving forward and a feeling that the message of #BeMoreMartyn is even stronger now, “A character in the play says ‘you couldn’t help but be happy around him and there’s not enough people in the world like that’ that’s why he’s missed so much, he brought so much happiness to so many people and of course he wasn’t always an angel, we’ve got a scene called ‘Sod’ some of the things he did to his friends are hysterically funny. Things he would call them, things he would do to them, living with him, Mariah Carey on at 5am in the morning but they all absolutely adored him.”
People have talked to Adam about Manchester’s incredible response to the Arena attack and are including Hope Theatre Company as part of that inspiring response, Adam feels that “It’s an artist response to something tragic, our aim is for our audiences to leave stronger, inspired, empowered and take away something really, really positive from something that was, really, really terrible.”
#BeMoreMartyn opens on Monday 21st May at Hope Mill Theatre tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/bemoremartyn-boy-deirdre-tattoo/