Thursday, February 29

Daniel Bye takes to the road with a new play about running and freedom

Daniel Bye made his name with a series of challenging interactive works he wrote and appeared in, but now he’s teamed up with musician Boff Whalley to create These Hill Are Ours that’s nominally about their shared love of running.

Daniel and the former Chumbawamba songwriter are also using songs and words to explore who should own the land they run on, and thanks to the virus they’ve been waiting for a year to perform it in front an audience. The idea began life when they were working together on projects around the country.

“We go for a run from wherever we were out of the town, or city, towards the peak overlooking the place and that kind of grew into a project,” recalls Daniel about a work that developed as they put the hard miles in over the last three years.  “But as we repeatedly ran away from cities, we found ourselves thinking about the relationship between urban and rural, and the relationship between digital and analogue, and what it is about the contemporary world that might make us want to run away from the city so much? We realised that was the story.”

Along with the songs and stories the narrative thread running through These Hills Are Ours is an epic run Daniel undertook, backed up by Boff in a support van, so the obvious question is whether it will appeal to non-runners as well as hardened fell runners like them?

“It is something that we’ve wondered about, and actually was something that we thought about quite a bit at the beginning. We’ve shared work in progress with lots of people who aren’t runners, and it meets people differently.  Runners experience it from the point of view of ‘oh yeah, I know what this is like’, I know that the detail of that and, yeah, that describes my lived experiences.

“Non-runners look at it kind of thinking ‘wow, that’s a bit mad isn’t it’, why would you do something like that, what makes somebody do that, what’s the story there?  But, of course, a non-runner can enjoy this just as a non-murderer can enjoy Macbeth.”

As well all the sweat the duo are keen for the audience to think about who owns the land in this country, and consequently who controls our access to spaces that they argue should be owned communally by all of us, which is a universal theme for every citizen.

“Whether it’s just a walk in the local woods, or round a local bit of common land, we take access to the countryside for granted, but actually we have access to very, very limited amounts of our countryside,” notes Bye. “That access is provisional and precarious and constantly under threat.

“The show tells some of the stories of how we won that right to access, things like the Kinder Trespass, which is reasonably well known. It’s also a celebration of our continued right to that access and asks some questions about how that might be under threat, and what might be done about it.”

Bye can’t resist adding interactivity to his work but this time the pair are offering a unique extra experience for audiences to reflect on what they have seen. Every morning after a show the duo will be donning their trainers inviting audience members and local runners to join them for a run to the nearest peak that overlooks wherever they are.

“We would go out for a run in every new place, and just discover a little bit about it, it’s how we get to know a place, and how we get to know more of the country.

“It just seemed like an obvious thing to do to get to know the audience a little bit better and just to offer something a little bit more.  I’m sure at some venues it will just be the two of us, nobody will come, and at some venues there will be an entire local running club coming to join us, or five people have never met before who then go on runs together every week for years afterwards.”

Bye is best known as dramatist, and Whalley as a songwriter, so is this an Elton John and Bernie Taupin style partnership where one pens the words and the other knocks out the tunes for the show?

“I wonder who would object to that comparison more,” says a laughing Bye. “In this case less than in some of our other collaborations as we’ve worked on projects before where we’ve written songs together, so I’ve written words and Boff turned them into music.

“In this case I haven’t written a word of the songs, I might have occasionally made a couple of suggestions, so the collaboration is much more clearly delineated.”

These Hills Are Ours will head out on a national tour when restrictions are lifted and for more information go to