Benedict Allen at Hull Truck Theatre Friday 25th June
by Michelle Dee
It is not often you get to see a truly awe-inspiring person.
Benedict Allen is a pioneer of exploration and adventure, pushing the boundaries of human endurance to
their outermost limits.
His desire to make home in some of the most inhospitable places in the world could be viewed as sheer lunacy.
His willingness to undertake and participate in all manner of tribal customs and rituals is beyond belief.
'So, Mr Allen, where did you go on vacation?'
'Well, I trekked on my own across the deserts of Africa for three months, with two camels, one which refused to carry anything, and the other with one eye and half a hump. You?'
But in that answer lies the essence of Benedict's achievements. He immerses himself completely in a tribe or indigenous community, whether that be with people, as in New Guinea, or with animals like the camels in the Gobi, or the dog team in Siberia.
As he says himself : 'To me, exploration isn't about conquering natural obstacles and planting flags. It's not about going where no-one's gone before in order to leave your mark - but about the opposite of that - about making yourself vulnerable, opening yourself up to whatever's there, and letting the place leave it's mark on you'.
Well, he started off by apologising for being late for tonight's talk. Apparently he got lost coming to
Hull..I suspect the GPS ( Global Positioning System ) usually issued to him by the Beeb when he
goes on his journeys into the great unknown had been left at home.
He is famed for his very low-tech approach to exploration, and rarely uses modern day navigation
devices, preferring to use a map and compass.
Benedict conveys his stories using still photographs projected onto a large screen.
The pictures are then used to illustrate his adventures all over the world.
The thing that struck me first was the special relationship he had with the animals on his journeys.
He gives them unlikely names and discovers their personalities through shared experience.
He speaks fondly of his rapport with his camels on his African trek through the Namib desert, a
journey of 1000 miles.
But this is no ordinary rapport. It is a bond absolutely crucial to the success of the expedition,
and quite literally to his survival.
When travelling alone, Benedict would walk across sun-baked desert leading his camels.
If he were to ride them and then be thrown to the ground, it could prove fatal.
With no help at hand, he had to try to ensure his own safety at all times.
Also, he had to protect his animals from danger as well.
Through overcoming obstacles and seeing them as opportunities to assert himself within the
group, he showed the animals they needed him, just as much as he needed them.
Benedict tells of his experiences with infectious humour and surprising modesty. His audience become captivated and hung on his every word. He oozes charm which must come in handy to see his way through difficult situations arising in foreign places. He looked like he was very comfortable talking to large audiences, which is hardly surprising, being as he is a motivational public speaker. He has addressed such prestigious companies such as IBM Ltd and appeared in theatres up and down the country.
The majority of tonight's talk concerned his expedition across Siberia in Far Eastern Asia. His intention was to take command of a dog team and cross the Bering Straits into Alaska. Most of Benedict's travels have seen him surviving warm climates.
He was not prepared for temperatures of minus fifty and sometimes eighty below freezing with the wind chill factor. Timing his trip badly, he arrived in the snowy tundra of Siberia during the worst winter in living memory. This ambitious project was spectacularly captured on film for the BBC series 'Ice Dogs' shown last year on BBC2.
Again, his survival depended on a trust being built up between man and animal. Not only did he have to get the dog team to respond to his commands, but he had to somehow fit in to the complex pack structure. Indeed, he had to become the top dog himself. He gave his team those unlikely names again like Flashywhite, Bernard , Mad Jack and Jeremy.
It was clear that the stars of the BBC series were the dogs themselves. Viewers learned about Bernard and grew to understand his special relationship with Jeremy and his dislike for hard work.
Through Benedict's narration, mostly speaking directly into a hand held camera, you were transported to a harsh reality of day to day survival. He had to eat the same diet as the dogs, which consisted of frozen walrus meat.
He has filmed many of his adventures, often working alone under extreme conditions. This method of recording his expeditions is extremely powerful. You begin to feel the exhilarating rollercoaster ride of triumph and adversity as he overcomes many seemingly impossible obstacles.
As well as being an accomplished film maker, he has written nine books, two of which were bestsellers that recount his adventures around the globe. After the show he invited the audience to ask questions. The most revealing question came from one of the younger members and was simply 'Did you like it?' referring to his experiences in Siberia.
Benedict replied that some of the time his hands were gnarled with frostbite, that he was in tremendous pain and had to face the real fear of losing his dog team altogether.
His vulnerability was evident as he explained how the unforgiving landscape shaped and moulded him. You sense he has an enormous respect and affinity with the people and animals that live and work in brutal but beautiful environments.
He received enthusiastic applause from the enraptured audience and made himself available afterwards for book signings and further questions.
There was also an opportunity to buy some of his books after the show. Judging by the elated expressions and shiny new hardbacks tucked under the arms, some of the audience did just that.
This was yet another thoroughly remarkable evening spent at the Spring Street Theatre. Thanks should go to the organisers of Humber Mouth and Hull Truck for booking such a talented and charismatic speaker.
The Humber Mouth 2004 - Benedict Allen at Hull Truck Theatre Friday 25th June by Michelle Dee
It is not often you get to see a truly awe-inspiring person. Benedict Allen is a pioneer of exploration and adventure, pushing the boundaries of human endurance to their outermost limits. His desire to make home in some of the most inhospitable places in the world could be viewed as sheer
The Humber Mouth 2004 - Sufi Poetry and Music night at the EICH Gallery, 19th June by Michelle Dee
People were greeted by a thunderous drum call as they entered the performance space of the EICH gallery.
Oluseyi Ogunjobi, Fosuwa Andoh and a girl of barely ten brought the audience to attention, playing
pounding rhythms on African drums.
The night's proceedings were introduced by Toyen, resplendent in
Hull Truck Theatre - presents the 20th anniversary production of.. Up n Under - Written and directed by John Godber Thursday 8th - Saturday 31st July, 8.00pm
Hull Truck Theatre are celebrating John Godber's 20-year anniversary as Artistic Director
by staging his Olivier award-winning play, Up n Under.
Godber joined the company in 1984, bringing with him his unique brand of accessible
comedy / drama which catapulted Hull Truck TheatreRead more...
The Humber Mouth 2004 - The Blockheads New Writing Festival
Hull Truck Tue June 22nd by Lee Cassanell.
Special Guest Reviewers - Jenna Jameson - Adult movie Starlet, Jesus Christ - The son of God ™ and He-Man - Master of the Universe A pale faced prostitute (Louisa Hutchinson) is torn between a sexually deviant superstore manger (Lee Green) and a Sean Connery impersonating pimp
Diary of Events - The Humber Mouth 2004
Complete listings of the Humber Mouth 2004 Festival 19th June to 4th July.
Many events are FREE so take advantage of what Hull has on offer for you..
and send in your reviews for publishing on thisisUll.com.
Check out thisisUll.com reviews from Humber Mouth 2003 below.
Humber Mouth Interviews - Tony Petch: Vanishing Point By Nicholas Boldock
Tony Petch could be regarded, in the nicest possible way, as an elder statesman of poetry in Hull. He's certainly been around for a while now (and I'm sure he won't mind me pointing that out) and has been published in innumerable anthologies and magazines over the years. It comes as a surprise to discover that Vanishing Point is his first solo collection.
Reviews Humber Mouth - An Audience with Joan Bakewell, Hull Truck theatre Monday 10th Nov By Steven Hall.
Joan Bakewell is a wonderful speaker. That should come as no surprise really, she is one of the great pioneers of TV journalism and in her time she has interviewed everyone - from Margaret Thatcher all the way to Marcel Duchamp. But knowing that someone is a great speaker and actually hearing them speak are two different things. Bakewell's tone, delivery, her pauses and her pitch were all perfectly perfect. It was great just to listen to her voice.