Theatre review: The Hypocrite Hull Truck Theatre
It’s been years since I sat in Hull Truck Theatre. Decades probably, but when I heard that Mark Addy was starring in The Hypocrite, penned by the city’s own Richard Bean, and backed by the RSC, I realised it was time I returned.
So this Saturday night I’m with a packed out audience, wondering why I haven’t been back in eons. And it comes down to having that must-see show or actor that makes it worth my while.
Addy is one of those thesps who deserves the trek. Of course the world woke up to his skills in The Full Monty 20 years ago, and while he took plenty of diversions along the way, it was his role in Game of Thrones that reminded me why he’s one of Blighty’s best.
I’m not surprised Hollywood keeps snapping him up for projects like The Flintstones prequel, The Time Machine and Robin Hood. He’s as rock solid as they come when gravitas is needed in the flimsiest of projects, and as soon becomes apparent on stage, his comic timing is second to none.
I knew two things about this show before I arrive. One is obviously the star, and the other is the fact it’s a period comedy. At the back of my mind that means it’s going to be hard work, but a few seconds in and it’s anything but.
It starts with Sir John Hotham’s (Addy) demise (the first of many clever stage illusions) and then fills us in on what led to this grisly turn of events.
’That looks like Caroline Quentin’, I think as Hotham’s wife, Lady Sarah, arrives on stage, and of course it is. I’d done such a good job of avoiding reviews for fear of being let down, I knew nothing of any co-stars. And they are terrific.
Rowan Polonski (Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Prince Rupert of the Rhein has the mesmerising stage presence of a young Tim Curry, while Laura Elsworthy (Fresh Meat) does a terrific job providing exposition as servant girl Connie. Full marks too for Harry Potter veteran Ben Goffe as Charles I. He also plays a ghost who takes the breath away.
Danielle Bird as the Baldrick-style comic relief Drudge is astonishing. Hanging from a hook one minute; balancing precariously from a light fitting later in the show, and at the end of the first half, wowing the masses with a stunt involving a drawbridge.
It might be a period romp with the feel of Python and Blackadder thrown in, but this is on a par with their best output.
There are many gags about Hull dialect, much to the the delight of the audience, which makes me wonder how well it translates when it transfers to Stratford later in the year. Gags about his holiness “The Perp” might leave a few punters confused.
This run is the world premiere, one of the reasons it’s sold out every night. However, the buzz would keep packing them in for weeks to come if it was extended for a longer run. (This is supposed to be the final night, but demand means it’s been extended).
Unlike some stage plays which feature humdrum musical interludes, the songs are very good. So good I wonder if there’s a soundtrack available in the lobby. (There isn’t alas).
One thing that keeps returning to me about the City of Culture is a London-based Arts Correspondent reporting on the launch and asking whether anyone will want to come to the shows, offering that snooty ’If it’s not in London, why bother?’ argument.
On the strength of The Hypocrite alone, I’d imagine that reporter is probably eating his words.
I also imagine a film version, with visuals by Peter Greenaway (not so surprising as he once made the short film Goole By Numbers), would be a sight to see. As long as it retained (almost) every cast member and word of dialogue. Okay, some speeches get a little lost in translation, but the pacing and belly laughs make it an rip-roaring success.
Director Richard Breen makes sure there’s never a dull moment, while designer Max Jones ensures it looks fabulous; some of the costumes and THAT bed (alluded to throughout the production) have to be seen to be believed.
I’m not surprised the cast gets a standing ovation. Addy and company shine in a complex production (I can only imagine what the rehearsals were like), and a reminder of why Hull deserves its year as City of Culture.
This 17th-century-set farce is one of the best stage shows of this or any other year and it deserves the plaudits coming to it. The fact I’d happily see it all again in Stratford is testament to its success.