Hugh Lupton’s interest in traditional music, in street theatre, in live poetry, and in myth, resulted in him becoming a professional storyteller in 1981 (there were perhaps half a dozen in Britain at the time), working largely in schools.
In 1985 he formed the Company of Storytellers with Ben Haggarty and Pomme Clayton with a view to taking storytelling to adult audiences (until that point it had been perceived as an art-form for children).
For twelve years the Company toured Britain, running workshops, performing at Arts Centres and theatres, organising festivals, and working in education. They were deeply involved with the National Oracy Project. Their work was instrumental in stimulating a nation-wide revival of interest in storytelling. Their performances included The Three Snake Leaves, an exploration of the dark face of the Grimms stories, commissioned by the South Bank Centre for their German Romantic Festival in 1994, described by the Independent as ‘a wonderful, intricate piece about storytelling and the possibilities of redemption.’ And I Become Part of It an imagined mythology for Mesolithic Britain (commissioned by the Arts Council, Eastern Arts and East Midland Arts) reviewed in the Times Educational Supplement: ‘The Company held a Purcell Room audience spell-bound for two hours… the stories - dwelling on the perennial themes of hunger, love, renewal, transformation, sex and death – overlapped and complemented each other, seeming in the end to all be part of one story.’
Hugh Lupton has also, over the last ten years, worked in collaboration with singer and composer Helen Chadwick, with violinist Chris Wood, with percussionist Rick Wilson, and with artist Liz McGowan, widening and challenging the possibilities of the form. His celebrated Praise Songs (with Chris Wood) was reviewed in the Times:
“In this ‘funeral oration that never happened’, folksong frames the two stories that weave a whole life around you, bringing the hard world of the late 19th Century farm back to life. You hear the voice of the farmer ‘husky with the early morning’, on the day that the horses were stolen. You hear the horseman speaking ‘more in song than in words’ as he calls them, ‘the sweet high whistle’ that turned the working team on the plough, ‘the secret trill that urged the geldings on, with loaded wagons up Royston Hill’. You feel the warm rubbly breath, the hard curve of the nose-bone, smell the must of the stables, the sweet harness soap, and, as you journey deeper into the world of imagination, the tears start slowly to well up inside you and spill’.
His work with Daniel Morden on the Greek epics (The Iliad, the Odyssey and Metamorphoses) has received wide acclaim. Their ‘Iliad’ was reviewed in the Times:
“… I went to the Barbican the other day to listen to two of Britain’s finest storytellers – Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden – recounting the Iliad, the tale of that great quarrel from which all western literature springs. The seats were uncomfortable… but the hours flew by. These two men had to do no more than tap into the ancient power of the spoken word to hold an entire audience in their thrall. A veil of typescript fell from my eyes. I saw Helen in all her intoxicating beauty standing amid the bloody chunks of a slaughtered stallion. I saw Achilles aglitter in gold armour before his black ranks of Myrmidons. I saw banquets and voyages, armies and oceans, battling heroes and ravening gods – all conjured out of thin air by a voice. Film is often thought to be a threat to literature. But the images that billowed and faded in that darkened auditorium were quite different from those that unspool across a screen. I could put my hands in front of my face and the pictures would not vanish. They were inside me. They belonged to me. They were part of the history of the whole of human life.”
Hugh Lupton’s annual week-long workshops on Myth and Landscape (co-run with Eric Maddern) at the Ty Newydd writers centre in North Wales have explored much of the Anglo-Celtic mythological repertoire, and have inspired a generation of tellers.
He has toured Africa and South America for the British Council and regularly performs in Europe and the USA. He has published several collections of folk-tales including the award winning Tales of Wisdom and Wonder described by the Independent as ‘Lucid and haunting… a book to treasure.’ He has appeared on radio and television (most recently Late Junction on radio 3, Something Understood on radio 4, King Arthur on the Discovery Channel and Beowulf for the Open University on BBC 2). He has continued with his involvement in education throughout his career.
In 2005 Hugh Lupton had work commissioned by the National Theatre and BBC radio 3’s Late Junction. His song ‘One in a Million’ (co-written with Chris Wood) has won 'Best Original Song' award in the 2006 BBC folk awards.
Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden were awarded the 2006 Classical Association prize for ‘the most significant contribution to the public understanding of the classics’.
In 2007 Hugh added four new shows to his repertoire: 'On Common Ground' (with Chris Wood) his exploration of the life of John Clare and the effect of the Enclosures. 'Icarus' (with Daniel Morden), commissioned by Hay Festival and the National Theatre, a new chapter in their on-going Greek project, exploring the price of knowledge. 'The Liberty Tree' (with Nick Hennessey) commissioned by the Festival at the Edge, exploring Robin Hood as an archetype of English dissent. And 'Christmas Champions', commissioned by the Sage Gateshead, a celebration of the English Mummer's Play.... all toured through 2008 & will again in 2009.
In March 2009 Hugh and Chris Wood premier their new piece 'The Homing Stone', commissioned by the Bath Literature Festival:
THE HOMING STONE
Hugh Lupton and the English Acoustic Collective
(Chris Wood, Rob Harbron and John Dipper)
The commission is inspired by episodes in the life of Hugh Lupton’s great-uncle, the writer Arthur Ransome, and is the third in a series of collaborations between Lupton and Wood that they call 'Praise Songs'.
Ransome left the Lake District and travelled to Russia as a
journalist in the turbulent days of the Russian revolution, carrying
in his pocket a stone from Peel Island on Coniston Water. In Moscow
Ransome played chess with Lenin and with Trotsky, became the only
western journalist trusted by the Bolsheviks, and lost his heart to
Evgenia, Trotsky’s secretary.
Currently in Hugh’s repertoire and available for touring:
with Chris Wood, Liberty Tree, with Nick Hennessey, Icarus
with Daniel Morden, On Common Ground, with Chris Wood,
Christmas Champions with Chris Wood, John Dipper, Rob Harbron &
Olivia Ross, The Iliad, with Daniel Morden, Beowulf
with Rick Wilson, The
Odyssey, with Daniel Morden, Metamorphoses, with Daniel
Morden, The Sleeping King, with Daniel Morden & Nick
Hennessey, The Three Snake Leaves, with Ben Haggarty & Pomme
Clayton, The Mardling Acre (East Anglian Tales) solo, Animal
Tales (for family audiences) solo.