by Richard Bean
Directed by Philip Breen
Designed by Max Jones
Music & Lyrics by Grant Olding
Royal Shakespeare Company, Hull Truck Company & Hull City of Culture 2017
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 5th April 2017, 19.00
Mark Addy – Sir John Hotham
Martin Barrass – Mayor Barnard of Hull
Daniel Bird – Drudge, servant to the Hthams
Rachel Dale – Ensemble
Neil D’Souza – Peregrine Pelham, a puritan
Laura Elsworthy – Connie, servant
Ben Gaffe – Charles I / Ghost / Ensemble
Danielle Henry – Sweet Lips / Mme Frotage / Lady Digby
Adrian Hood – Executioner / Captain Moyer
Asif Khan – Captain Jack, Sir John’s swashbuckling eldest son
Andrew Langtree – Ensemble
Jordan Metcalfe – James, Duke of York, son of Charles I
Sarah Middleton- Frances, Sir John’s daughter
Pierro Niel-Mee – Durand, Sir John’s son. Alawyer
Rowan Polonski- Prince Rupert of the Rhein
Paul Popplewell – Albert Calvert, a moneylender
Caroline Quentin – Lady Sarah Hotham, neé Sarah Anlaby
Josh Sneesby – The Ranter
Matt Sutton – John Saltmarsh, cousin of Sir John
Richard Bean still has the glow of One Man Two Guv’nors shining like a halo over his head. I was somewhat unconvinced of the automatic accolades of genius … in that neither his adaptation of The Hypochondriac nor his original Pitcairn lived up to One Man Two Guv’nors. I sympathise deeply. Every week I get fulsome comments on my 1978-1980 work, but hear much less on the 37 years since (which I know to be far better …). However, this is my third “It’s by Richard Bean – we can’t miss it!” booking.
The play was produced in Hull as part of its 2017 City of Culture programme before moving to Stratford. Richard Bean comes from Hull, hence the connection. Hull Truck has built a great reputation over the years too. The university has a major drama department, and I did my BA at Hull too. While it might be the biggest English city most people have never visited (it’s out on a limb geographically) I grew to love the place.
The Hypocrite is in a poplar vein of fake-17th/ early 18th century plays, following the success of Nell Gwynn at The Globe and on tour, and Queen Anne by the RSC. This one is cunningly set in 1642, when the theatres were closed at the start of the English Civil War. They were not to reopen until the restoration of the king in 1660. So there is no “Civil War / Commonwealth” dramatic work for comparison. “Jacobean / Caroline” drama had finished. “Restoration” drama was in the future.
Lady Sarah Hotham (Caroline Quentin) and Sir John Hotham (Mark Addy)
The play is based on the 1642 siege of Hull, which was a Parliamentarian stronghold in the English Civil War, which is just about to break out in earnest. The siege of Hull was the first major action of the war. The Governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham, has been told to secure the large arsenal held in Hull, and prevent King Charles I from entering the city to take possession of the substantial supply of munitions. Hotham has a Royalist siege without, and a truculent Parliamentarian mob inside, and he hasn’t decided which side he’s on.
Sir John’s life is full of problems. First he’s from Beverley, not Hull … Beverley is an upmarket old town ten miles away. Think Richmond-on-Thames, versus central London … coming from the far wealthier satellite didn’t do Zak Goldsmith much good trying for Mayor of London.
SIR JOHN: Who do people in Hull hate most?
CAPT MOYER: People coming in from Beverley telling them what to do.
Then Lady Sarah (Caroline Quentin) is banging away with his cousin, John Saltmarsh (Matt Sutton). Saltmarsh leads a love cult and has seventeen wives.
Captain Jack: The swashbuckling son (Asif Khan)
The Hothams need to create good relations with the Parliamentarians by marrying their daughter Frances (Sarah Middleton) off to an unpleasant ageing Puritan (aged 57 in the text), Peregrine Pelham (Neil d’Souza). Trouble is Peregrine demands a dowry of £2000, and Sir John’s solution to finding the money is to accept £1000 from each side in the conflict in return for his loyalty. Frances repays him by falling in love with the cavalier James, Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) the son of the King. For a while she thinks she might fancy the German Prince Rupert (Rowan Polonski) more, but Rupert likes his bread buttered on both sides (an expression I may have first heard in Hull) and Prince Rupert fancies her brother, Durand (Piero Niel-Mee). The two cavaliers spend much of the play disguised as women selling fish.
James Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) and Prince Rupert of The Rhein (Rowan Polonski)
Connie, the servant of the house (Laura Elsworthy) acts as a narrator, topping and tailing the play. Their other servant Drudge (Danielle Bird) is 107 years old. Drudge is subjected to the full range of physical stuff in the play, hilariously and dangerously at times.
The Hypocrite has fun with its two production partners. There are plenty of Hull jokes and plenty of Shakespeare references too. Sir John mentions that Lady Sarah Anlaby is his fifth wife, and at least she got a street in West Hull named after her. Anlaby Road is a major thoroughfare in Hull, and also refers to the district around it. Lady Sarah dreams of a house in Bridlington.The good burghers of Hull are enraged when King Charles refers to Hull as a town … CITY they shout in unison. We get mentions of North Ferribey and the village of Paul.
Then there are a stack of Shakespeare references and theatre in- jokes. The script references Romeo & Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night and King Lear at least. Several speeches where Sir John is trying to follow logic (he always gets numbers wrong) are modern versions of Shakespearean clowns trying to grapple with language. Amazingly, they work in a way that Shakesperean clowns often don’t, because the verbal gymnastics are modern.
Romeo & Juliet is the book Frances is reading when she meets James. She says she’s reading Romeo.
‘And Juliet?’ He asks.
‘I don’t know. I haven’t read that far,’ she replies.
Yes, I’ve heard that one before but not so perfectly weighted.
Then the moneylender, Albert Calvert (Paul Popplewell) is described as the Shylock of Hull. Sir John pretends to be Jewish to ingratiate himself, not that Albert is actually Jewish. Albert demands not a pound of flesh as the default, but a far tinier piece of flesh, to great hilarity.
King Lear gets it when they mention the King. The play script was a mere £4.99 at the RSC, and I got one and after speed reading, I can’t find the reference, so maybe it was added … Richard Bean thanks the actors at the start for their work in rehearsal, and states ‘the play in performance may differ slightly.‘ Whatever, someone mentions King Lear, and Sir John asks who that was.
‘He was a King that went mad.’
Mark Addy holds the pause and says ‘Three and a half HOURS?’
That got a huge laugh from an experienced RSC audience with the piles to prove it.
Twelfth Night comes in when Prince Rupert sends love messages to Durand and Durand has to dress up like Malvolio in yellow with feathers (the result is a chicken costume).
L to R: Lady Digby (Danielle Henry), Connie (Laura Elsworthy)
The boisterous physicality and range of spectacular physical theatre even exceeded Aphra Benn’s The Rover at the RSC last year. People were hoisted on high, thrown face first into the trap (coal cellar), hooked up at the side. Hull Truck were not afraid of getting a laugh out of physical size either. Adrian Hood as Captain Moyer / The Executioner is a giant of a man … he looked seven foot to me. Ben Goffe is … well, Game of Thrones means we needn’t be too PC … a dwarf. The opening when Hood and Goffe are both executioners with axes of related size is brilliant. Ben Goffe also plays a female child ghost and most memorably, King Charles I (who history records was very short).
A running joke throughout is the “Inigo Jones” bed which apparently will turn anyone on. It’s referred to offstage many times before we finally see it … the Hothams reckon they can regain the dowry by catching Sir Peregrine in adultery, and Lady Sarah volunteers to seduce him.
Lady Sarah (Caroline Quentin) and Peregrine Pelham (Neil D’Souza) on that Inigo Jones Bed.
The style made me think of Mickey O’Donaghue’s (Whatever happened to him?) New Vic Company 25 years ago. It’s an old favourite that I’ve often mentioned as a reference in reviews. Mark Addy takes the role of Sir John Hotham and plays it in a particular style, much as Mickey O’Donaghue did, but Mark Addy is even more accomplished. It requires the ability to stand just a shade outside the role at times, making side references (Like Anlaby Road being in West Hull) as well as other modern asides, while also throwing everything into the part. It’s actually a “star comedian” role, with a touch of what Eric Morecambe or Frankie Howard did in pastiching plays. That is, you keep an edge of your personality as well as the role. Yes, there is an edge of “pantomime” lead in the interpretation, but all the better for it. It was a truly magnificent performance.
Sir John Hotham (Mark Addy)
The music throughout is powerful “militant working class folk.” It was written by Grant Olding, and performed by Josh Sneesby as The Ranter with backing by Phill Ward (guitar, mandolin) and Adam Jarvis on double bass. The music is on the main stage, integrated with the action, in costume. It’s Billy Bragg in style, though conventionally better sung. It ties in to Hull’s strong left wing traditions. My politics tutor was a specialist on European fascism, and had moved from the USA to Hull because Hull was the place where Moseley’s blackshirts got the hardest time in the 1930s. He thought that was a sign that Hull’s heart was in the right place. Yes, I have marched in Hull too, protesting the Vietnam War, and I’ve sung We Shall Overcome there. When there was a sit-in at the university in Hull in 1968, dockers and bus workers sent money to students. The songs, sung with power, suit Hull. It always had a major folk scene too.
It must be permissions, but when the RSC have contemporary artists as composers, those are the CDs that don’t appear in the shop. I am still waiting for the Laura Marling and Jon Boden soundtracks (Laura Marling was downloadable). I’ll get this Grant Olding soundtrack if ever they issue it.
Overall rating: *****
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
My comment on the critics: if you didn’t find this funny, the problem lies with you! This Stratford performance was billed as “Press” though all the major national reviewers went to Hull to see the initial run. I assume it was local Midlands press night.
Michael Billington, The Guardian ****
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph ****
Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail ****
Natasha Tripney, The Stage ***
Dominic Maxwell, The Times **
LINKS ON THIS BLOG
Relative Values by Noel Coward, Bath Theatre Royal 2013
POSH, Salisbury Playhouse, 2015