by Richard Bean
Hull Tuck Theatre,
24 February – 25 March 2017
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon,
31 March – 29 April 2017
cast | reviews | photographs | poster
Mark Addy – Sir John Hotham
Caroline Quentin – Lady Sarah Hotham
Asif Khan – Captain Jack
Pierro Niel-Mee – Durand Hotham
Sarah Middleton – Frances Hotham
Laura Elsworthy – Connie
Danielle Bird – Drudge
Matt Sutton – John Saltmarsh
Martin Barrass – Lord Mayor Barnard
Adrian Hood – Captain Moyer / Executioner
Paul Popplewell – Albert Calvert
Neil D'Souza – Peregrine Pelham
Jordan Metcalfe – James, Duke of York
Rowan Polonski – Prince Rupert of the Rhein
Ben Goffe – King Charles I / Ghost
Josh Sneesby – The Ranter
Rachel Dale – Messenger / Soldier / Local
Danielle Henry – Sweet Lips / Mademoiselle Frottage / Lady Digby
Andrew Langtree – Peters / Messenger / Soldier
All other parts played by members of the Company
Director – Phillip Breen
Designer – Max Jones
Lighting Designer – Tina MacHugh
Music & Lyrics – Grant Olding
Sound Designer – Andrea J Cox
Stunts & Movement – Annie Lees-Jones
Fight Director – Renny Krupinski
Illusionist – Chris Fisher
Text, Voice & Dialect Coach – Michaela Kennen
Assistant Director – Becky Hope-Palmer
Music Director – Phill Ward
Casting Directors – Helena Palmer, Matthew Dewsbury
Dramaturg – Pippa Hill
Production Manager – Jacqui Leigh
Transfer Production Manager – Carl Root
Deputy Production Manager – Suzy Somerville
Costume Supervisor – Sian Thomas
Props Supervisor – Beckie May
Company Stage Manager – Paul Sawtell
Deputy Stage Manager – Bryony Rutter
Assistant Stage Manager – Amy Hawthorne
Rehearsal Music Director – Paul Frankish
RSC Producer – Kevin Fitzmaurice
Hull Truck Theatre Producer – Rowan Rutter
Guitar / Mandolin / Percussion / Voice – Phill Ward
Double Bass – Adam Jarvis
by Jonathan Brown
Hull enters its third month as City of Culture heralding the first big theatrical set piece of the year. Local lad Richard Bean, the award-winning playwright (One Man, Two Guvnors) who took up his pen after working at a bread factory, has created an extraordinarily vibrant, hugely enjoyable and riotously funny historical romp set on the banks of the Humber.
Lest we dare to think we live in tempestuous times ourselves, Bean reminds us that the upheavals of the English Civil War created a world literally turned upside down where the “layman is the expert” and “the fool is now the king”. Sounds kind of familiar.
It is a world alive and fizzing with new and dangerous ideas – a mood quite brilliantly captured by director Phillip Breen in this frenetic slapstick collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Mark Addy is faultless as Sir John Hotham, the weak, self-interested and utterly doomed feudal overlord who faces an agonising problem in the wake of the Puritan challenge to the Crown – how best to save his own skin? Despite the high-minded times, morality and honour have little place in Sir John’s estimation which focuses on how to offload a troublesome and love-sick daughter whilst securing a new mortgage on a vast estate (East Yorkshire) which has been in the family for half a millennium already.
It is a circle he fails to square and pays with his head in wonderful opening scene. Sir John is engaged in the most visceral marital dispute with his sixth wife Lady Sarah played by the excellent Caroline Quentin, whose own dalliance with her priapic cousin John Saltmarsh (played by Matt Sutton) is the other great axis of fun. The insults fly from Sir John’s lip – most of them centring on Lady Sarah’s generous bosom and yet more private areas of her body. The bawdy jokes come thick and fast and though children who have grown up on a diet of Horrible Histories may well love this, parental guidance is advisable.
The outstanding cast assails the audience from the start as street vendors and prostitutes and proceeds to perform with huge physicality over the ensuing two and half hours, racing around the theatre and diving down trap doors at breakneck speed. Grant Olding’s spine tingling music and lyrics deserve a special mention. This is an excellent choice for City of Culture – world class, locally situated farce that has already proved it has huge audience appeal. Go and see it if you can get a ticket.
by Dominic Cavendish
Hull-born playwright Richard Bean’s contribution to his home-town’s 2017 City of Culture jamboree is the closest he has come to achieving an evening of sublimely funny, knock-about mirth to rival his mega-hit of 2011 One Man, Two Guvnors (which also incidentally ushered in the Golden Age of James Corden).
Bean did the state some service in his hot-off-the-press satire on Fleet Street’s phone-hacking scandal, Great Britain, back in 2014, and did Sheffield a favour with his innovative snooker drama The Nap last year. But this return to his roots also feels like a welcome reaffirmation of his status as the funniest playwright on the block.
Boisterously directed by Phillip Breen, The Hypocrite serves as a scabrous, bawdy, witty, often flagrantly silly love-letter to Hull and its purported place in a crucial moment of national history. In 1642, Sir John Hotham, then Governor of Hull (and all-round local big-wig) was charged by Parliament with securing the city’s arsenal and barring Charles I from entry – which he did, dealing a significant blow to the monarch’s cause. His allegiances were not fixed, however, and both increasingly resentful of and an object of mistrust to the Parliamentarians, he wound up facing trial for treachery and being executed in 1645, as was his eldest son Captain John.
Has Mr Bean, spying a comical thread of divided loyalties amid the broad tapestry of turmoil and tragedy, effectively penned One Guvnor, Two Sovereignties? Yep. Replaying history as farce, the frantic action sees the freshly severed head of its protagonist sneezing back to life (a nice bit of icky-tricky stage-business, that) and thereafter shows Mark Addy’s harassed aristo trying to keep both sides sweet (and bag money for his daughter’s dowry), while being driven to Basil Fawlty-esque levels of domestic melt-down.
Four and twenty black-birds baked in a pie are as nothing compared to the kooky ingredients here, which include two royals forced into cross-dressing disguise, a surety arrangement that entails the penile equivalent of Shylock’s pound of flesh, a ghost-child obsessed with a vase, and an absurdly stooped, put-upon doddery servant called Drudge who resembles a 17th-century antecedent of One Man’s over-stretched octogenarian waiter Alfie.
That’s not even the half of it – troubadour protest-singers (music and lyrics by Grant Olding) and libidinous utopian Levellers enliven the scene and after the interval, you’ll think nothing of a climactic romp in an impiously decorated “Inigo Jones” boudoir in which half the cast are seemingly secreted, with Addy’s unkempt patriarch scuttling about inside a tasteful commode (duly watered). If a man can turn in his grave, surely Hotham might at that.
Essentially this is a piece to sort the Purists from the Puerilists. If old-school slapstick, recklessly applied poetic licence or imaginatively unpleasant marital insults aren’t your bag, steer clear. Bean tried his hand as a stand-up in the Nineties, and he’ll conscript any willing and able gag to keep the laughs coming; the results can feel breathless and certain lines bait charges of un-tamed laddism (“They’re a funny looking lot, Hull folk. Tattooed, bald, unshaven, I couldn’t commend the men either”).
At times, I suffered a slight sense of history failure, reeling from the pell-mell plotting, yearning for more drama, less ribaldry. Yet in so far as the evening aims to entertain, it hits the bull’s-eye. With its sitcomish shades of Blackadder and Upstart Crow, its author seems to have a man-crush on Ben Elton. Is that such an unpardonable sin?
Matching Addy’s dishevelled wife-berater glower-for-glower, Caroline Quentin – ringleted and at her buxom max – gives a mistress-class in withering disdain. And there are no weak links in the supporting cast: whether it’s Laura Elsworthy as Hotham’s dependable, dead-pan servant Connie, Sarah Middleton as the preposterously wide-eyed, air-headed daughter of the house (“I’m the middle child… ninth out of seventeen”) or Danielle Bird’s virtuosic turn as the super-antiquated Drudge, dangling off the rising ramparts as the king arrives. Hats off too, to diminutive Ben Goffe, probably the shortest actor to play Charles I but surely the recipient of the biggest laughs in this role too. Warmly recommended (and that includes making the culture-vultural trip to Hull and back).
By Michael Billington
The road to Hull, they say, is paved with good intentions. Civic enterprise, however, has been rewarded with the title of UK City of Culture and the theatre programme kicks off with this raucously merry piece by Richard Bean about a celebrated episode in Hull’s history. Co-presented by Hull Truck and the Royal Shakespeare Company, it was so warmly received by its audience you could almost feel the local pride bouncing off the theatre walls.
Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. But Bean, in seeing the past through the prism of farce, doesn’t just seize on any old model. His template is clearly his own play, One Man, Two Guvnors, since his hero, Sir John Hotham, is desperately trying to serve two masters. It is 1642 and Hotham owes allegiance both to Charles I and, as member for Beverley, to the threatened parliament. He even owes money to both sides since he has taken £1,000 from each to pay for a daughter’s dowry. But his hand is forced when the king comes to Hull, where Hotham is governor, to secure the arsenal that could determine the fate of the civil war.
The joke is that the basic story is true, but Bean has embroidered events to fill his play with enough running gags to fill a theatrical marathon. One, again filched from One Man, Two Guvnors, lies in turning Hotham’s servant, Drudge, into a decrepit figure who is either left hanging negligently on a wall-hook or hurled violently into a cellar: I half expected him to bounce back like the waiter in the earlier play. Another gag, which gives the play some needed political backbone, is that Hotham is a temporising chump who is saved time and again by his clever cook, Connie, who always has a cunning plan. There are so many ideas in the play that some, such as a pair of princes dragging themselves through Hull in female attire, get a bit lost, but better a Bean-feast than a famine.
The tricky part of the play is that Hotham, ever ready to sacrifice principles to expediency, is not exactly likable: he’s a raving misogynist who subjects his fifth wife, Sarah, to volleys of abuse, which she swiftly returns. Mark Addy, however, has the uncanny knack of enlisting our support, if not our sympathy: he exudes a warped Falstaffian survival instinct and is especially adept at making Bean’s local gags, about Hull’s rugby league teams or the seductive delights of Bridlington, feel as if they belong in a play about the civil war.
Phillip Breen’s production, based on the principle of nonstop action, gets good performances from the surrounding cast. Caroline Quentin as Lady Sarah seems permanently torn between insensate rage and unquenchable lust, Laura Elsworthy as Connie becomes a witty chorus commenting on a world turned upside down, and Danielle Bird is a miracle of simulated antiquity as the disintegrating Drudge.
At times the fun is a bit strenuous and the text overloaded. But that scarcely matters, since the spectacle of a Hull-born dramatist getting so much out of a pivotal moment in the city’s past produced a palpable delight. I enjoyed the occasion as much as the play itself.
By Quentin Letts
Theatre could have done something earnest and preachy to mark Hull’s City of Culture year. Instead, the Royal Shakespeare Company and playwright Richard Bean have come up with a cartwheeling historical farce about the part Hull played in the 17th-century’s Civil War. The Hypocrite of the title is Sir John Hotham, the local landowner, who must decide which side to back. Principle tells him to support the Parliamentarians. Greed tells him to support the Royalists. And so Sir John, like many a politician since the Garden of Eden, tries to have it both ways. As Hotham puts it in this cheerfully forthright play: ‘I am stuck in the middle, not knowing which end of the see-saw to ride, like a man with two horses but only one arse.’
In some ways we are back to the ground covered by Mr Bean in his celebrated One Man, Two Guvnors. When I heard the RSC had chosen Hotham’s story for this big civic event I feared it could all become a bit politically correct. Hull was an early flash-point in the Civil War. Hotham, governor of Hull, initially refused King Charles entry to the city, later changed his mind, was captured by the Roundheads, sent to the Tower of London and executed. Revolutions often end up eating their children. Look at Ukip. Indeed, has recent politics not made the Civil War era topical? Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Anabaptists, Hereticks, Seekers and above all the feathered snoots of a discredited ruling elite: it’s Leave v Remain all over again. Instead of becoming bogged down by seriousness this show is determinedly jaunty, its tone Blackadder by way of Sergeant Bilko. It is lucky to have Mark Addy playing Hotham.
Mr Addy is on cracking form. His Hotham is an irresistible mix of haplessness, lechery and cynicism. One moment he is grappling with a comely serving wench, the next he is arguing with his troutish wife (Caroline Quentin in fine fettle). Assailed by debts, he pretends to be Jewish, thinking this will impress the money-lender, but it only creates further onion skins of confusion and peril. Along the way, Hotham’s sexually-ambivalent son, a stiff-collared lawyer, dresses as a chicken to impress gay Prince Rupert, who by this point is in drag. Confused? I spent large parts of the show in happy bewilderment, simply enjoying the frenzy of the farce, particularly when a dwarf, King Charles (Ben Goffe) turns up on a wooden horse to demand entry to Hull. Cue a loud fanfare. Hull soldier from the ramparts: ‘Oi! Keep the noise down. I’m tryna have a lie in!’ And I bet that is what it was like. So often we over-dignify history. It takes an ace humorist like Mr Bean to humanise it.
Some of the accents are as thick as a Humber fog. The local gags may not work when the show moves to Stratford-upon-Avon in April. But well done Addy and Bean, well done the RSC artistic director Greg Doran (if only the RSC’s output was always this refreshingly un-PC) and well done City of Culture Hull.
What’s On Stage
By Ron Simpson
Hull Truck Theatre has begun its celebration of Hull as UK City of Culture with a splendid joint production with the Royal Shakespeare Company which ticks all the boxes. The Hypocrite combines zanily comical farce with a respectful nod to a key moment in Hull's and England's history. In 1642, with England on the brink of Civil War, Sir John Hotham, appointed Governor of Hull, refused the King admission to the city: there is an element of truth in Hullensians' claim that they started the Civil War. Hotham, however, was no hero and over the following months he changed sides regularly with the fortunes of war. In the end he was executed by order of Parliament; had the Royalists' cause triumphed, he would probably have been executed by them.
Richard Bean pays serious attention to "the world turned upside down". His play begins at the end, with Hotham's execution; ballad singers punctuate the action with punkish protest songs by Grant Olding; at the end, after the cast have pursued their own comically uncivil wars, they gather together for a paean to parliamentary democracy. But in between, the evening justifies Bean's observation that the events in Hull in 1642-43 were farcical. He condenses 14 months into three days, a crazy succession of new arrivals, new problems, constant knocks on the door and people hiding in the coal cellar. Poor Sir John has other problems, too: a quarrelsome and unfaithful wife, a love-sick daughter, a chronic lack of money and many other potential disasters.
Director Phillip Breen gets vivid performances from all in his 20-strong cast. Mark Addy is perfectly cast as the principle-free Sir John, oddly likeable and switching easily from bombastic dignity to deflating asides, savouring Bean's clever word-play. He and Caroline Quentin, his aggressive and openly contemptuous wife, make the most of as inventive a set of insults as you'll find anywhere. Jordan Metcalfe and Rowan Polonski are a delightfully camp double act as the Duke of York and Prince Rupert; Sarah Middleton, the Shakespeare-reading daughter desperate for romance, careers about like Ophelia on speed; Pierro Niel-Mee's rational, law-loving Durand Hotham has a touching innocence; Laura Elsworthy makes Connie, the servant, the only sensible person there. The striking performances continue throughout the cast, with a special mention for Danielle Bird, the "ancient" servant, knocked down, tied up, confined in multiple articles of furniture, and still tumbling and trapezing. Max Jones' set is elegant and functional, his costumes as inventive as the text and direction, and every trick and illusion is carried off with panache.
Perhaps in some ways the production is a bit much. Do we need so many characters, so many twists, such a long evening? In practical terms, the stage is sometimes so full that key entrances are masked. But excess goes with riotous invention – and there's plenty of that!
by Nick Ahad
The Hypocrite marks something of an apotheosis for Richard Bean. Not, you understand, the singular high point of the Hull-born playwright’s career, there will be more to come. Nevertheless this co-production between the RSC and Hull Truck Theatre (a sentence worthy of note) is a culmination of some of Bean’s best ideas from his many hit plays over the past dozen years. If you’ve charted Bean’s career since the early days, and many in Hull have, you will recognise a number of theatrical features that have now become Bean tropes in his latest play. You will see the absurd wordplay used most effectively in Up On Roof, the flights of surreality seen in The Nap at Sheffield last year and the use of an elderly slapstick stooge, first and best used in his career-defining One Man, Two Guvnors.
It is as though Bean has taken all the best parts of his greatest hits and brought them together under the very odd and real story of Hull’s part in the start of the English Civil War. Sir John Hotham, in 1642 the member for Beverley, through double dealing and malleable morals ends up on both the side of Parliament and of the King as civil war threatens. Bean gives Mark Addy the role of a lifetime as Sir John, one that sees the cuddly Yorkshireman red in the face and dripping with sweat as he charges about the stage attempting to pacify the different warring factions – even within his own household.
With this play Bean has surely become our leading writer of farce. He breathes ancient life into an old fashioned form. You have to admire not just the panache on display, but the sheer meeting of the technical demands Bean has placed on himself. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is the closest comparison in terms of scale. Speaking of which, you have to admire the scale on display here. Bean, a member of the Monsterists, a group of playwrights who campaigned for large casts in British theatre, must have been delighted that he was allowed 21 actors – the volume brings with it inherent power.
While Addy leads this impressive army of actors, he is provided able support by the company. In the case of his wife Lady Sarah Hotham he is provided ample support by Caroline Quentin. Variously described by her husband in the same glowing terms Basil Fawlty reserved for his ‘little nest of vipers’, Quentin plays Lady Sarah with a twinkle in the eye.
Bean gives us a couple of strong Hull-accented guides in the play and throughout there are musical interludes that appeal directly to the funnybones of those born around the Humber. Hullensians are very well catered for with personalised jokes peppering the script. As with all farces, the whole thing is building towards an inexorable coming together of the various parts and when it arrives director Phillip Breen provides a shuddering climax, creating tableaux that are positively Hogarthian. At times the convoluted story makes high demands on the audience’s attention, but stick with it and you’ll be richly rewarded.
by Charles Hutchison
This is the first theatre event of Hull’s UK City of Culture 2017 celebrations, and while the focus should be on Hull, it would be remiss of a York newspaper not to bang the drum for our city’s prominent involvement in the Hull Truck and Royal Shakespeare Company co-production.
So, here goes. York actor Mark Addy plays the duplicitous lead, 17th century MP Sir John Hotham, while Martin Barrass, Hull-born but an institution in the York Theatre Royal pantomime, makes his first stage appearance since last year’s life-threatening motorcycle crash as Lord Mayor Barnard, wig, wispy beard and all. Oh, and the production team of director Phillip Breen and designer Max Jones were responsible for last summer’s York Minster Mystery Plays. The Hypocrite is not quite on that epic scale, but nevertheless Breen still has a cast of 21 under his charge, a rarity on a Yorkshire repertory stage and one of the prime reasons to celebrate Hull’s elevation to City of Culture status and the Premier League power of the RSC.
The bad news is that the Hull Truck run has sold out already – just like King Charles I, you won’t be able to enter Hull – but a trip to Stratford is recommended. Not least because a Yorkshire presence in the audience might assist with triggering laughter for the more parochial Hull references, be they the colours of the Rugby League team from west Hull or a road name.
Then again, surely part of the joy of Hull’s year in the cultural limelight is to export Hull as much as to import visitors to the city. Where once it was Alan Plater and John Godber putting Hull on the playwrights’ map, more recently it has been Richard Bean and Tom Wells, and The Hypocrite is a gloriously raucous hymn to Hull by the prolific Bean.
His story is rooted in the history of Hull: the first city to refuse entry to King Charles I as the English Civil War looms. Here Bean takes his One Man, Two Guvnors template, with Addy’s Hotham in the pay of both the Parliamentarians and the King, and makes merry with shades of Blackadder, Dario Fo, Fawlty Towers’s Basil and Sybil and Bean’s past in anarchic stand-up comedy. Addy’s verbal jousts with Caroline Quentin as Hotham’s wife number five are but one of the multiple pleasures of a frantic, ribald farce that makes for one Hull of a riotous show.
by Anne Cox
The Royal Shakespeare Company asked award-winning playwright Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) to write them a play, and the Hullensian didn’t have to look far for inspiration. To celebrate Hull’s City of Culture status, and no doubt Bean’s love of his home town (sorry, city), he came up with a knockabout farce that is everything to do with Hull but absolutely nothing to do with Stratford-upon-Avon. That didn’t stop last night’s opening night audience in Shakespeare’s birthplace falling about laughing at the indecision, plotting and desperation of The Hypocrite, a man caught between a rock and a hard executioner’s block.
The Hypocrite, now playing in the RSC’s Swan Theatre, is loosely based on a true story but given Bean’s trademark comedic treatment. It helps if you know something about Hull’s history (don’t we all? Not listening in those lessons at school?). No, I know nothing about Hull either – except that this is a very special year for them and there’s a rather cool bridge over the Humber. But back in the 1600s it was pivotal in the burgeoning civil war between the King and Parliament. Sir John Hotham, MP for Beverley, five times married and father of 17 (!), is desperate to marry off a particularly whiny, love-sick teenage daughter to a 56-year-old Puritan, but he needs to raise a £2,000 dowry. Hotham is offered £1,000 from the Earl of Newcastle for his support of King Charles I and, shortly after, another £1,000 to back the Parliamentarians. How does he pledge Hull, with its biggest arsenal outside of London, to both sides, keep the cash, lose the daughter, appease his wily wife and hold on to his head?
Mark Addy, making his RSC debut, is outstanding as the fence-sitting, mathematically confused Hotham, who finds himself frantically trying to extricate himself from an impossible situation. This is a very physical role for the robust Addy but he doesn’t miss a beat during scenes requiring him to maniacally tear around the stage, hanging up his hilarious manservant Drudge on a hook, throwing people into the theatre’s below stairs cellar, dashing off stage, out of the auditorium and more. It’s exhausting watching him. He turns each throwaway line into comedy gold, frequently misquoting and mocking Shakespeare as the story becomes more frenzied.
The always entertaining Caroline Quentin, as the wife, Lady Sarah Hotham, is a perfect foil for Addy, the bickering couple constantly hurling the most inventive insults at each other. But you can’t help thinking she’s wasted, often given nothing more arduous than swanning on stage, giving a knowing glance at the audience, and uttering a pithy one-liner. She only really gets down to it – so to speak – when seducing a lover on a particularly erotic Inigo Jones bed. While Hotham juggles a number of balls to keep ahead of the axeman his daughter, Frances (Sarah Middleton) conducts an illicit liaison with Charles’ son, the pretty-boy Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) and his effete German cousin, Rupert (a riotous turn by Rowan Polonski) using an early form of Facebook.
This is a strong ensemble with some standout performances. Danielle Bird’s epic Drudge, a Bean creation surely modelled on One Man Two Guvnors’ octogenarian waiter Alfie, is pure Python. He doesn’t have a line but the physical comedy will have you crying with laughter. The comedy is peppered with Grant Olding’spolitically scathing protest songs from a seventeenth century boy band led by The Ranter, the superb, charismatic and vocally brilliant Josh Sneesby.
There are moments that don’t work so well. Ben Goffe’s ghost is a pointless aside and there are a couple of scenes towards the end when you feel director Phillip Breen has let hold of the reins. It’s pure pandemonium. But overall this is a hugely entertaining show that provides a partial history lesson for those of us not from Hull (though some of the in-jokes went over my head) and a night of laughs. You can’t ask for anything more.
(out of 5)
by Richard Lutz
Even the promo for this raucous new play at Stratford has a tinge of bonkers comedy in it: "Now, direct from Hull..." it exclaims, "...comes The Hypocrite". Well, seeing how the Humberside town is this year’s City of Culture, maybe a little latitude is allowed here.
Nevertheless, The Hypocrite (direct from Hull) written by Richard Bean is a six out of five star laugh. The author of One Man, Two Guvnors (starring James Corden back in 2010) has delivered a broad (very broad) take on Hull’s part in the Civil War and, it can safely be said, is part Fawlty, part Blackadder, part end of the pier joke-at-Thon and 100% funny.
Mark "Full Monty" Addy (above) plays Sir John Hotham, a real life governor of the city in 1642 as the Civil War erupted. He backed both sides — the monarch and the Parliamentarians — and this caused problem after problem. Added to this is his diabolically acidic domestic life with wife Sarah (Caroline Quentin, below), a little bother with cross dressing lovers, a 113 -year-old butler called Drudge and an eye-bulging, glove-sniffing pervy Puritan fiancé of his empty headed daughter.
There is a fusillade of great one liners, two liners, zingers, loads of Hull jokes, wisecrackery, slapstick buffoonery, more Hull jokes, and double and triple entendres. Addy is a born stage comedian and Quentin comes up trumps as the spurned wife who is smarter than the collection of numbskulls on the stage.
This assured production at the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford comes via The Hull Truck Company (err... direct from Hull). And the troupe, we must say, takes a knowing and cavalier sideswipe at 17th Century history to up the ante on the lolz. We wouldn’t advise those studying for history A-levels to take notes. But, if it’s humour as wide as The Humber you’re looking for, it’ll be the best comedy you’ll have seen on the stage in a long time.
by Gill Sutherland
You know that Julius Caesar wot’s on next door at the RSC right now? Forget it. This is nothing like that.
I mean, when was the last time you heard mighty Caesar, even given his many trials and tribulations, complain that he’s, “sweating like a kestrel”? Never, I’ll warrant. And that’s because, this particular simile (or is it a metaphor?) mangling perspiration with birds of prey is just one of many below the belt blows uniquely delivered to the Bard’s beautiful language by the hero/villain of our piece, Sir John Hotham of Hull, a man who likes to poop in the river off his own bridge. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the English Civil War as they never, ever taught it at school.
Hewn from the same bloated oak as Will Shakespeare’s Falstaff and splendidly played with maximum gusto by Mark Addy, Hotham is a blustering rogue intent on securing a couple of grand to dowry out his daughter Frances, a demented flapper played on the perpetual verge of orgasm by the brilliantly dippy Sarah Middleton.
To get his gauntlets on the dosh and in a welcome echo of playwright Richard Bean’s other great success, One Man, Two Guvnors, Hotham engages in a cunning plan to play off the king against his parliament, such skulduggery inevitably landing him in both sets of bad books. Much hilarity ensues. Then more. Then more…
If there’s one thing Bean is not averse to it’s over-eggs-and-baconing the pudding and the gags rain down like slingshot. If you need an if-you-like-that-you’ll-like-this, don’t look too much further than Blackadder. The Hypocrite works the same formula, bringing modern cynicism to bear upon past traditions and behaviours. Indeed, Danielle Bird’s Drudge is like Baldrick in reverse, a pretty, quick-witted serving wench in every way the superior of Hotham except, as he constantly reminds her, in sex and bloodline.
Hotham’s match is his busty, scheming battle-axe of a wife, Lady Sarah. Their bickering, obscenity-laced relationship is Basil and Sybil Fawlty time-machined back a few centuries. Caroline Quentin now officially owns the terms buxom and fishwife by the way, and woe betide anyone mad enough to put up an argument. Then there’s the coconut clip-clopping of horse hooves which accompany Ben Goffe’s diminutive, lisping King Charles, a straight throwback to Monty Python’s Knights Who Say Ni.
There surely can’t have been so much fun rammed into one RSC show in aeons and director Philip Breen once again displays the love of high jinks and heavy mechanics that made his Merry Wives Of Windsor such a hoot a few years back. The drawbridge scene is a particular killer. As is the start (which is actually the end!) Plus the ghost. And the cross-dressing princes with neat moustaches. Plus the bit about the foreskin. Plus… best stop lest we trigger the spoiler alarm.
There’s only one petty gripe – the nagging desire to saddle the farce with some serious political portent in the shape of some didactic Mumford-And-Sons-y type folk songs which grate against the wholesale frivolity. It’s a clumsy device in comparison to, say, the heart-rending impact of Blackadder’s final scene going OTT in the trenches.
Still, mustn’t grumble. Soon enough we return to Hotham advising his wife to stay out of politics and get back to such womanly pursuits as washing her pony and shaving her back.
Loosen your corsets, ladies and gentleman, you’re in for a belly laugh.
Redbrick Magazine (University of Birmingham)
by Ruth Horsborough
Set in the pressurised context of the 1640s, in the lead up to the Civil War, division was rife throughout King Charles I’s reign. Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull and ‘the hypocrite’, is caught between his loyalties to his king, and to Parliament. Sir John must decide who to support, not only in order to support his family and but also in order to keep his head. In his own words, he must decide between ‘advantage and honour’.
Written by Richard Bean, who also wrote the hugely successful One Man, Two Guvnors, Bean is from Hull and with 2017 being Hull’s year as ‘City of Culture’, this play is an homage to Bean’s hometown - an historic and playful nod of approval. The director, Phillip Breen, has helped to create a spirited and witty evening of entertainment, full of farcical comic interaction. Slapstick comedy combines with witty fast-paced dialogue to follow Sir John’s story. It starts with his execution, but what follows is a feast for the eyes and ears.
The standout character was Sir John Hotham himself. Mark Addy’s Hotham should have been a dislikeable character, yet Addy made him a compelling protagonist. As Lady Hotham, Caroline Quentin’s seething glares and infuriated blasts at her incompetent husband were convincingly comical. The biggest laugh and impromptu applause came from a joke on the insanity of giving everyone the electoral vote and the idiots who would run the country if this were allowed to happen. In post-Brexit times and at the beginning of a Trump presidency, this was a well-judged remark that rang all too true.
This was a strong company performance, with most characters given brief moments to shine. Laura Elsworthy gave an excellent performance as Hotham’s loyal but stony-faced servant, Connie. Frances, the hugely naïve and air-headed daughter of the Hothams was well realised by Sarah Middleton. The transformation of the Hotham’s son, Durand (played by Pierro Niel-Mee) from legal pedant to lovesick suitor, ending the play dressed in a bright yellow feathered outfit, was one of the highlights of the evening. My personal favourite supporting cast member was Danielle Bird’s ancient, mostly mute, yet rib-achingly funny Drudge. The ancient yet remarkably resilient 108 year old servant to the Hothams was frequently thrown about the stage, hung from a wall, or tossed into a cellar. Great gymnastic skills were demonstrated as Drudge was left hanging precariously onto a rising drawbridge or climbing up a rope to perch on a chandelier.
The set was simple, but ingenious. The drawbridge was particularly impressive, but the use of the trapdoors, balcony and various alcoves always elicited laughter from the audience. Curtains, commodes and chests all served as timely hiding places, but the most preposterous had to be the much vaunted Inigo Jones’ designed bed. As an audience, we had been warned throughout that just looking at this lavish bed would seduce us, and it did – into roaring fits of laughter and startled gasps with its phallic golden horses and cherubs. All utterly and wonderfully ridiculous.
There was never a dull moment in this production; with slick verbal and physical sparring, cross-dressing royals and even a glowing ghost. This was a display of relentless slapstick with several frantic chases around the stage and auditorium. Between many of the scenes, catchy musical interludes performed by enraged protestors added to the drama. The narrative of this play was based in fact, its presentation given considerable poetic licence, but with so much to engage the senses, you just wanted the silly revelries to continue. This play proclaims that there is nothing wrong with slapstick. Crude, lewd, and exuberant, it deservedly received a rapturous reception from its audience.
The Reviews Hub
by James Garrington
One thing you can pretty much guarantee with a Richard Bean script – you won’t be bored. Set at the beginning of the English Civil War, The Hypocrite is based on a true story. Hull has the largest military arsenal outside London – with signs of civil war looming, whoever takes control of it will have a big advantage in any coming conflict. Meanwhile, Sir John Hotham is desperate to raise the £2000 needed for his lovesick daughter’s dowry when a messenger arrives bringing him £1000 to secure the town for the King. On the same day, another messenger brings £1000 for him to take the town for Parliament. Dowry sorted, all Hotham needs to do is work out how he can be on both sides in a war, let the King in at the same time as keeping him out, and above all not lose his head in the process.
Mark Addy (Hotham) is the eponymous hypocrite and delivers with some superb comic timing. Sometimes pompous and officious, sometimes desperate, and usually with a delightfully deadpan expression, Addy seems to be made for this sort of role. He delivers gag after gag with panache and manages to make the character likeable – no mean feat when you consider that he is an unprincipled wife-abuser and beater of servants. The wife on the receiving end of his abuse is Lady Sarah, played by Caroline Quentin who gives us a lesson in how to give as good as she takes, as the pair trade more insults than you would think possible between a married couple. Aggressive towards her husband, yet brazenly lecherous towards anyone else who seems to show an interest, the role seems a little underwritten but Quentin certainly makes the most of her time on stage.
Sarah Middleton gives a nicely judged performance as Sir John’s daughter Frances, a vacuous, love-struck girl who blames her troubles on being the middle child – number 9 of 17. She’s just discovering the joys of new writer William Shakespeare, which opens the doors for whole piles of comedy as the play progresses. There are delightful performances too from Jordan Metcalfe (James, Duke of York) and Rowan Polonski (Prince Rupert) who turn from slightly effete Cavaliers to downright camp fish-sellers in their attempt to hide within the town. Danielle Bird makes a wonderful old servant as Drudge, showing some lovely physical comedy skills as she finds herself left on a hook, flung down a cellar, knocked over and clinging to a drawbridge, and Laura Elsworthy (Connie) is both commentator and servant, apparently the only sane and sensible character in the play who always has a plan to save Hotham from his indecision.
Richard Bean’s script, which contains some adult themes, is very much the same mould as his One Man, Two Guvnors, jam-packed with humour and full of running gags. In fact, there’s so much here that it would be impossible to get it all first time round and you almost need to see the play again to pick up the bits you missed the first time. It’s a sort of blend of Blackadder and Monty Python, with touches of Morecambe & Wise, Tony Hancock and large dollops of panto and farce thrown in for good measure – and it’s often hysterically funny, helped by the skills of a strong cast and sure-footed direction from Phillip Breen.
If you’re looking for high drama, this is not the place to find it – but if you want a light-hearted riotously funny and hugely entertaining romp then you’re in for a treat with The Hypocrite. Definitely recommended for a good night out.
by Alison Brinkworth
The Hypocrite is a co-production between the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and Hull Truck Theatre that was created to be part of this year's Hull's UK City of Culture events.
Starring Game Of Thrones and The Full Monty actor Mark Addy and Caroline Quentin from Jonathan Creek and Blue Murder in the lead roles, it opened at Hull Truck Theatre before moving on to the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, where I caught it.
Set in the run up to the Civil War in April 1642, Addy plays Sir John Hotham, a rogueish likeable character who is out for his own ends and caught between being a Royalist for the land and money yet, as an MP, ordered by Parliament to secure the arsenal at Hull and deny entry to King Charles I.
With a Royalist siege outside the Hull city walls and the rebellion of the mob within, we know that there is no happy ending for Sir John, especially as the play starts at the end of the story - with his head being cut off. It's an excitingly unusual opening as the talking head of the recently-executed Sir John appears and recalls how it all happened. Accompanied by a gritty band of soulful musicians, who have a little of the Ed Sheeran about their style and music, the tale takes the audience back to the pantomime shenanigans of Sir John's household.
For starters, there's the antagonistic, abusive relationship he has with his latest wife, Lady Sarah Hotham - a wonderfully vibrant Caroline Quentin, who has an easy rapport with the crowd that makes her seem as though she's ad-libbing even though it's part of a carefully-crafted comedy script. Then there are his children, each with their own witty traits. Among them is the childish teenage daughter Frances, played with a carefree abandon by Sarah Middleton, who spends most of her time screaming at receiving messages from love interests or in heartache at being "defriended" from the messaging service. She even rolls on to the front row of the audience in a screaming frenzy during one of many funny moments in this delightful play. Frances and her studious lawyer brother Pierro Neil-Mee are both romantically caught up with the Duke of York, and Prince Rupert of the Rhein, a fine pair of dandies who are in hiding in Hull and, naturally, resort to disguising themselves as women. This pair - actors Jordan Metcalfe and Rowan Polonski - are the pantomime dames of the show with accents that wouldn't be out of place in 'Allo 'Allo and a natural spark between them. Add to that a bizarre sideline about a child ghost, an erotic bed that sends everyone wild and a marriage plot involving an over-zealous Puritan and you can understand why the eccentric elements of this play give it a charming silliness.
Along the way, Bean has also thrown in plenty of local puns about Hull and Yorkshire that carry well outside that region along with many tongue in cheek lines bemoaning Shakespeare. Directing the play is Phillip Breen who has form for managing comedy shows as he was behind the RSC's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 2012 and well received The Shoemaker's Holiday in 2014. He's masterminded a slick production that paces along at speed with plenty of one liners. Before you have stopped laughing from one joke, you are on to the next.
It's an impressive set too with the Beverley Gate recreated for a standoff between Sir John and the King, complete with a moat and the raising of a drawbridge. This latest creation from Bean is not only a hilarious escapade but, by the finale, you realise that the play has cleverly linked Hull's history with the future of democracy in Britain. For at its heart, this gem of a play is a laugh out loud political satire. It's also another roaring success for Bean.
by Nick Le Mesurier
Richard Bean’s full-on farce The Hypocrite plays fast and loose with history. Its premise is an historical fact. In 1642 Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull, refused Charles I entry to the city and thus denied him access to a vital armoury which might have won him the civil war. Yet far from becoming a hero to the Parliamentarians, he lost his own head to them a year later, accused of treason. But here, more or less, history ends. Instead we have Sir John trying desperately to play one side off against the other in order to get hold of a dowry for his daughter and thus secure a profitable marriage. I laughed long and loud throughout much of this three-hour romp. There’s a cross-dressing Duke of York, a lawyer dressed as a chicken, a dwarfish King, and a randy Ranter who believes in free love for everyone. Caroline Quentin as Lady Sarah Hotham, Sir John’s feisty wife, is like a ship in full sail, cannon blazing. Mark Addy as Sir John runs hither and thither, and there’s some marvellous slapstick at the expense of the inarticulate but very bendy servant Drudge (Danielle Bird). As is often the case with farce, look behind the stereotypes and there are some slightly dodgy attitudes at work. Sir John is a misogynist, a liar, a self-serving schemer, and indeed a hypocrite of the first water. But Mark Addy’s portrayal is so full of warmth and energy, and the script so full of glorious one-liners delivered with perfect comic timing that one cannot help but be drawn in. The play is stuffed full of references to Hull, and I imagine a performance there would be like a 7-0 victory at home to the city’s redoubtable football club. Here it’s spectacular fun, and if we overlook the history, and now and then a few misogynistic jokes, we gain a great deal from this marvellous absurd comedy.
Belly laugh-inducing scripts are not always the norm at The RSC, although Shakespeare has undoubtedly written some fine comedies, however, this production of The Hypocrite had both myself and my plus one beside ourselves with laughter. A head wasn’t the only thing to roll in this hilarious piece about the 17th century Governor of Hull, Sir John Holtham (Mark Addy). Set in the 17th century it may be, but the modern twists that are subtly interwoven are an additional source of humour in this laugh-a-minute, raucous comedy.
The action begins at the end as we’re shown Sir John being led to his be-heading and his sorrowful cook, Connie (Laura Elsworthy) at her wits end. Connie narrates at various times throughout which is occasionally necessary as there is such an over-drive of energy in each scene. If elderly man-servant, Drudge (Danielle Bird) isn’t being hung up on a hook, dropped into a cellar or falling over from the weight of a sword he’s taken hold of, then Lady Sarah Hotham (Caroline Quentin) is running off having kicked her husband in a sensitive area or branded him one expletive or another. Daughter, Frances (Sarah Middleton) is determined not to be married off to Peregrine Pelham (Neil D’Souza) and who can blame her? The boggle-eyed fifty-something gets turned on by the sight of a lady’s finger, let alone the provocative bed that has been designed by Indigo Jones! Frances has discovered Shakespeare and happens to be reading Romeo and Juliet when she stumbles upon two men who take her fancy, The King’s Son, Duke Of York (James Metcalfe) and his German cousin, Prince Rupert (Rowan Polonski), a pair of flamboyant dressers who are, in my opinion, a formidable comedy duo. With the running theme being Sir John being charged by Parliament to secure the arsenal at Hull and deny entry to King Charles I. He’s playing a dicey game as the question of a dowry for his daughter comes into the equation. His wife, Sarah cannot stand him and fancies herself some free lovin’ living with Sir John’s cousin, Saltmarsh (Matt Sutton) and Sir John couldn’t care less, he has a thing for Connie, his cook – although he doesn’t exactly flatter her before he takes her in his arms! There’s also the matter of Sir John’s eldest son, Captain Jack who talks in metaphors, but can also change to similes when required. It’s all leading to ‘off with his head’ at any rate.
A play with adult themes and the odd bit of f’ing and blinding, it certainly is – this only adds to the abundance of humour, though. Feckulant is a word used frequently by Sir John and it fits the period then and now! Mark Addy tirelessly ploughs energy into his performance and Caroline Quentin positively shines on stage, my first experience of watching her tread the boards and her comic timing is perfect for this genre. Sarah Middleton is wonderfully baby-ish with her high pitched cries and random tearing across the set when she’s engrossed in her book. James Metcalfe with his over the top costumes and swagger, quite the comedian, as was Rowan Polonski, they have been well cast together. Laura Elsworthy, I last saw in Cooking with Elvis at Derby Theatre and she was a steady, strong presence as Connie. In a cast with no weak links who work together brilliantly as an ensemble, it’s difficult to pinpoint stand-out turns, but Danielle Bird as Drudge is in a league of her own. I was already familiar with her work and she is a terrific character actress, acrobat and skilled comedy performer.
The RSC stage a production with style and show, which is not always immediately evident until the play unfolds, in the case of this piece, the set appears simple. The slick and effective way in which it opens up to reveal a drawbridge with a moat littered with a shopping trolley, amongst other mod cons plus the beheading scene itself at the beginning are a treat indeed. The whole of the auditorium is put to extraordinary use, as is typical of productions at the RSC and which The Swan Theatre lends itself to, exceptionally.
Engaging the audience from the outset and maintaining the interaction (I suspect the audience members seated on the row who copped for Frances rolling off stage onto their laps had rather a shock!) The Hypocrite is a well-crafted, cleverly written script which Philip Breen has directed as a choreographer would. Even in the ensuing chaos where I felt I needed eyes everywhere to keep track of what each character was up to, every move was well placed. It’s a bonkers, bawdy brawl of a show with a cast de force, catch it while you can – I’d go back and watch it again tomorrow.
by Roger Crow
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 to return.
So this Saturday night I’m with a packed-out audience, wondering why I haven’t been back in aeons. 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 becomes apparent on stage, his comic timing is second to none.
I know 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 and one of the reasons it’s sold out every night. However, the buzz would keep packing them in for weeks to come if it had an even longer run. (This is supposed to be the final night, but demand means it has 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 retains (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. It’s 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. It deserves the plaudits coming to it. The fact I’d happily see it all again in Stratford is testament to its success.
Behind The Arras
by Roderic Dunnett
This is a corker of a show from the RSC. Three laughs a minute. The audience was in paroxysms of laughter. I giggled till my sides split.
Most joyous of all is the fact that in Richard Bean’s side-splitting new play The Hypocrite, directed here with an abundance of wit, stagecraft and brilliance by Phillip Breen, the text captures the whole flavour of Jacobean theatre (Johnson’s Volpone and The Devil is an Ass for instance; even the title suggests English 17th century or the French comedy idiom of Molière).
With a strange flavour of iambics that is felt even in lines which are not verse at all, the play constantly captures and echoes the period it is set in (the first half of the 1600s). Almost all the jokes could have flowed from the pen of (say) Middleton or Massinger; there are even Shakespearian resonances. That is partly why it is such a sensational, believably realistic, chaotic spree.
Hull-born Bean’s text is (as he describes it) a ‘farce’ (its one-liners often an easy match for Morecambe and Wise, or Blackadder): a comic masterpiece with a tragic tinge: at the beginning and end the central character, Sir John Hotham, the governor of Hull and trapped between the Cavaliers and Roundheads in the first major encounter opening the Civil War (April 1642), loses his head (and his eldest son) to the axeman.
It’s a gem of a production. Breen presents the whole action as a glorious feast of mayhem, allowing characters of mixed political allegiance to dance around, needle and perplex the hapless, shambolic lead as Sir John dithers over whether to stick to Cromwell and Fairfax’s Puritan parliamentarians or raise the flag of the King (and Queen), don Royalist colours and allow the crown’s forces to raid the arsenal, Hull being the home of a vast cache of arms which might determine the impending war’s outcome.
In ‘a world turned upside down’ Hotham is surrounded by an impetuous and sarcastic wife, a zany officer son and another who is a bookish lawyer, a totally deranged, crazy, man-chasing daughter, a prospective son-in-law who looks straight off the Mayflower, plus a host of other enemies or adherents who render his life a nightmare as he wavers with indecision.
Hotham (Mark Addy, a newcomer to the RSC and surely a perfect, Falstaff – Breen has already directed that other Sir John in the RSC’s Merry Wives of Windsor and assisted on The Comedy of Errors) is a glorious creation: brazen, rumbustious, intolerant of cant and rich in sarcasm and irony, who tries vainly to rule the roost in an impossible household, and whose first appearance (a bizarre talking severed head protruding from an enclosing chest or commode; shortly after, a barrowload bubbling with executed heads gets wheeled across) betokens the kind of course Bean’s utterly hilarious text is about to take.
Sir John – Addy is as perfect and finely timed a comic actor as the great Desmond Barrit, the RSC’s erstwhile lead, is at constant odds with his family: above all, his wife, Lady Sarah (a numbingly, teasingly, impeccably funny performance by Caroline Quentin), who characterises the capital as ‘a terrible place, unlike our cultured Hull’, gloats over his decapitated body at the outset and enjoys nothing more than a battle royal with her husband.
This is a co-production with Hull Truck Theatre, and it’s no surprise to find (a) that Addy figured in Barrie Rutter’s famously outrageous Northern Broadsides’ production The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, (b) that Rutter met his former wife while playing at the RSC and (c) that Hull Truck’s creative producer here is Rowan Rutter, the Hull-born actor’s second daughter, only just turning 30. Meanwhile, Addy’s Hotham comes out with some corker insults (‘You witless sphincter-shaker’, ‘damn petulant savage’, ‘over-bosomed’, ‘acrimonious scrotum’, ‘find some women’s work, wash a pony or shave your back’, none of which fazes his wife. It’s all water off a duck’s back.
Another who wearies Hotham (‘that sliver of quivering whimsy’) is his flighty, dreamy, wide-eyed (and wide-mouthed), give-or-take teenage daughter Frances, whom actress Sarah Middleton and director Breen present as a dotty, adoring, lovelorn filly.
Her entries – most of them – consist of her galloping across the stage, dress uplifted (all designer Max Jones’s costumes were wonderful, incidentally, of the period and not saggy, as what passes for Jacobean dress can look, but perfect fits), often appearing at incongruous moments, skidding frenetically from entry to diagonal exit, or across the Romeo and Juliet-like balcony, like a distempered bumble-bee, as often as not emitting a killingly funny high-pitched screech worthy of Miranda Richardson’s Elizabeth I in full flow.
She is, it seems, not just aghast and gullible but utterly loopy and deranged – and her bizarre antics fit to perfection and vastly enhance the craziness of Breen’s overall staging. When she rolled straight off the stage into the laps of the audience, the quivering Frances induced one of the biggest laughs of all. She is an absolute hoot.
So are the two new princely objects of her affection: The Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) - the future King James II (actually he was only nine at the time), and his elder cousin (Charles I’s nephew), Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Rowan Polonski).Their costumes are jokey from the outset - the amorous James being equipped with both ludicrous wig and a classic pink Royalist costume; Rupert looking as if he should be cross-gartered. By their later entries – being Royalist enemies they need to conceal themselves in Hull – they have adopted female costume (as fish stall vendors), and much fun is had from this pretence, from Rupert’s mock-German accent (somewhere between ‘Allo ’Allo and Prince Albert) and the fact that he, disingenuously feminine with a prominent moustache and beard, is over a head taller than his namby-pamby cousin.
These two oddballs flounce around the stage adopting sundry ridiculous, poncy poses, supplying a delicious cross-dressing sub-plot that is all about flirtation and nothing to do with the imminent Civil War, Rupert displaying a lot of nous (a creative swordsman if not quite yet the cavalry hero he would become), and James presented as a high-pitched nitwit.
There are jokes, innuendi and double-entendres every time they are onstage and freakishly wooing or wackily wooed, and their scenes are riddled with laughs whenever they make their next dotty appearance. The Swan Theatre audience was besotted; the guffaws grew louder and louder.
Increasingly curious, too, is the Hothams’ younger son, Durand (Pierro Niel-Mee), who provides amusement early on as the bookish solicitor-cum-advocate, his father’s usually ignored adviser (‘Does she need legal advice?’ ‘No, she needs something more enjoyable and less expensive’ – another Jacobean/Restoration comedy sneer); but who latterly – after jibes at his lack of a female partner - gets caught up in the marital pursuits.
He has little hope, kitting himself out in a weird costume - a cross between a yellow duckling and a Roman soldier - and perplexing his chosen dragged-up prince with ‘I will keep the fish – as a bookmark’. In short, this mallard has no chance of mating, and his ineptitude is another fine layer to keep the comedy flowing - or rather, racing - along.
Even minor roles are given enough lines to make them memorable. Thus Hothams’ elder son, a mindless militarist played by Asif Khan, who adopts an insane stance which becomes his Leitmotif, and is in favour of lashing out with his sword at anything that passes. His plum line, late on, is (I think) ‘Father, why are you wearing a commode?’ Or Josh Sneesby’s ‘Ranter’, who has amorous intentions soon directed at Lady Sarah, who in turn is pleased to oblige. Then there is Martin Barrass as the unsuccessfully bossy, oath-uttering mayor (‘I’m the f’cking Lord Mayor!’…and to the Duke in pink ’I wouldn’t wear that in f’cking Hull.’) And Neil D’Souza, splendidly stiff and starchy as the dreadful, staring-eyed, black-attired Puritan, Peregrine Pelham, whom the hapless daughter is destined, for her sins, to marry.
Arguably most memorable of the team, Adrian Hood as Captain Moyer, a bit thick but strong in the line of duty, who seems about 6 foot 6 inches high (he dwarfs even Hotham), a feature used hilariously at the outset where he plays Sir John’s Executioner. His voice is like a kind of Yorkshire cockney, a roughed-up regional accent that could be anything from Derby to Northallerton: the character is a bit like Bernard Bresslaw merged with P.C.Fancy Smith (Brian Blessed in Z Cars); and he adds deliciously to the general vagueness and shambles.
There was another scintillating performance in this staging. That was Ben Goffe, often seen amid the ensemble, sometimes spear-carrying, but serving up two terrific solo turns: the first as a Ghost, of a girl who at some stage has broken a precious vase, and who entrusts its pair to the protection of the wrinkled retainer (Danielle Bird). But even more splendid is his arrival, on full horseback – one of the show’s many splendid properties – as Charles I in full blue and gold royalist regalia. Goffe’s roles, partly silent, include some speech.
He has a super, expressive voice, utterly commanding, and appealing too. He also has a nicely intelligent and instinctive feel for comedy. It’s no surprise he has a pair of RSC credits already (including A Midsummer Night’s Dream); but his experience spans a wide range of theatre and TV appearances. If they were as ingenious and stylish as this one, they will have been worth watching.
What of the girls? The outstanding one, apart from Quentin’s Sarah, allotted the best below-stairs part and making a triumph of it, was Danielle Bird as the disastrous manservant, Drudge (the name, again pure Jacobean/Restoration). It took a third of the play for me to sense that his sensational hapless, put-upon, grey-bearded, teeth-grinding, hobbling, silently grumbling drudge – the name is perfect – was being played by a woman. Not only is drudge a disaster at everything he essays, he is also astonishingly athletic, whether it is an unpredictable acrobatic stunt (coordinator: Annie Lees-Jones) like climbing up ropes to the upper gallery, hanging pathetically on a peg, scuttling hither and thither (and a meticulous observer of all), or being unceremoniously chucked down in a bottomless chest or coffer direct into below-stage. Sometimes he plods like a snail; at other, hurtles about like an disturbed rat. It is a brilliantly engineered performance: with flailing arms and ropy legs, everything about it is ingeniously hectic, chaotic and mind-blowingly funny.
But the other girls (actually females) mattered, too: Danielle Henry pairing a savvy English whore and French lady attendant upon Henrietta Maria and also the wife of the Royalist Earl Digby produced a series of natty vignettes, her perceptive, varied courtesan being especially alluring but her ‘French’ accent being enticing as well. Another noticeable was Rachel Dale, who played a kind of postman/messenger with a series of witty stances (as if to say, I’m a girl posing as a boy; compare the similar part of ‘Bob’ in the Tudor-era Blackadder). A pity she – indeed both - didn’t have more to say and do.
And by no means last, the feisty serving girl, Connie (Laura Elsworthy), a delightful northern lass who is not just Hotham’s servant, but his confidante and adviser too. Elsworthy starts and ends the play skilfully, makes an impression each time she saunters onto stage, and seems quite unfazed on receiving Sir John’s sharp asides (‘To be common as muck like you must be awful’), mocking her lowly station.
Max Jones’s set and – presumably – costumes (Costume Supervisor: Sian Thomas) were, as implied above, pure delight, but also his props, among which one should include the ‘Inigo Jones bed’, purportedly designed by the famed Jacobean architect, much talked about and finally rolled out, together with its matching pair of golden (or either way, brazen) priapic devices, to much amusement. But the two chests (one a commode in which Sir John unwisely conceals himself), a broken piece of pottery which Drudge clings on to like a possessive Chelsea Pensioner, chairs and awnings were wonderfully apt. Tina MacHugh’s Lighting was perfectly planned, cleverly honed and ideally executed.
So was the Music: Phill Ward was the vocalist, serving up some superb lyrics when periodically barging on to the stage with his two companions – Music Director Phill Ward was the dazzling, extremely vocal vocalist, with his two colleagues Grant Olding and double bassist Adam Jarvis. Olding’s lyrics, pounding modern society as much as Jacobean misbehaviour, were as electrifying as they were rousingly sung. Yet this trio’s blasts of voice, guitar, mandolin, percussion etc. seemed perfectly fitting for this play: sometimes but not always ‘in yer face’ but also somehow playing a comparable spacing role to, say, Feste’s songs in Twelfth Night. The music was yet further enhanced by some magical background music, some of it inviting another Shakespeare comparison – with Caliban’s rapt ‘jangling instruments’ speech from The Tempest.
This was a team triumph for the entire canny and fast-moving cast. But the person who dominated the stage effortlessly, never putting a foot wrong, was Mark Addy’s Sir John, he of ‘five wives and 17 children.’ Addy turns each of Richard Bean’s beautifully crafted lines – a gift if ever there was one – to gold, or alternatively, muck. ‘It’s a fine house: it would make a good pub’; or in response to ‘He doesn’t sound Jewish’ volunteers ‘Did Jesus?’ ‘My favourite sin, every time – lust. What’s yours?’ ‘Fourteen is already twice six.’ ‘East Yorkshire, most of which I own’. ‘It’s the only one I’ve got and I use it a lot’ (of some unmentionable anatomical part.) ‘Where are we going to find five gentlemen in Hull?’ ‘We have no virgins here.’ ‘Ardour. Well it’s not called ardour (’arder?) for nothing.’ ‘You up there in the wastrel gallery.’ ‘I’ll have to stop shitting off the bridge…’ [but then] ‘it’s my bridge and my river.’
These gems of lines and images run into their hundreds in this superbly crafted, wordy and witty play, so that Hotham père is the character around whom everything revolves. And what a feast – never a meal - he makes of it. Addy devours lines with the same aplomb and voraciousness that Sir John approaches (so he implies) sex. This is easily one of the best solo turns I’ve seen from an actor at Stratford, even in the bard himself. And The Hypocrite is clearly one of the best and cleverest new plays to hit the RSC’s ever-productive stage. What a scintillating use of the Swan stage. And what an unbridled treat.
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: Pete Le May/©RSC
Photo: David Tett/©RSC
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