Drag me to Hull

hthp

Or, a few random notes about Richard Bean‘s funny, messy, wonderful farce, a co-production between Hull Truck Theatre and the RSC for the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 programme:

  • The play is a slab of local history rendered as farce, and it possibly helps to read the programme notes first. I didn’t. That said, this (culled from the theatre website) is probably all you need to know going in:hth
  • It’s very, very funny. There’s a lot of toilet humour, some truly inspired marital insults, a great deal of splendid physical comedy, and a hysterically riotous fight scene. This isn’t just a “Hull show”, and you’ll have a good time even if you don’t get all of the inside jokes.
  • You’ll probably get more of the inside jokes than you expect, though, even if (like me) you’ve been to Hull only a handful of times. Once you’ve worked out that, to steal a line from the wonderful (Hull-born) Maureen Lipman, Hull is the only place in the world where pearls come from Poland – or rather, the ernly plerce in the werld where perls come from Perland – you’ll be all set.
  • The decrepit-but-unbelievably-agile-servant gag may be recycled from One Man, Two Guvnors, but it still gets enormous laughs, and there’s an eye-popping, vertigo-inducing piece of physical comedy at the Act One curtain.
  • Once again, the action is punctuated by songs by Grant Olding, and they’re terrific; most of them are sung by Josh Sneesby, and he’s terrific too.
  • This isn’t quite the well-oiled laugh machine you found at One Man, Two Guvnors. It’s rougher around the edges, the structure is a little looser, and the second act in particular is (even) more anarchic.
  • There’s also, underneath, a serious point about the nature of parliamentary democracy – quite pertinent in a month in which certain members of our government, having led a successful right-wing power grab campaign to “restore sovereignty” to the UK’s parliament, are now performing spectacular logical gymnastics in their efforts to prevent that parliament from influencing the negotiating framework surrounding our breathtakingly moronic act of national self-harm impending divorce from the EU.
  • Mark Addy and Caroline Quentin are as good at playing this kind of farce as anyone you’ll find; they’re both flawless. So are the supporting cast.
  • Phillip Breen’s direction keeps the pace up, and he never allows the comic business onstage to become self-indulgent. That’s not as easy as it sounds.
  • The illusions – which include a beheading – are by Chris Fisher, and they’re beautifully, seamlessly done.
  • There’s stage mist. In one scene, quite a lot of it:
    hwbh

Overall? This isn’t a life-changing piece of theatrical art. It is great fun, and it’s a tremendously entertaining romp through a slice of history that probably isn’t all that familiar unless you happen to come from Hull. It’s playing a month in Stratford after it closes in Hull, and it’s more than worth the trip. If you aren’t from Hull, though, just give yourself time to read the programme notes before the lights go down.

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