Saturday, 15 April 2017

Theatre review: The Hypocrite

2017 is the year of Hull as UK city of culture, and although they're based in Warwickshire the RSC have got in on the act, co-producing a new commission with Hull Truck Theatre. The city is at the heart of The Hypocrite, which although being written in the style of a Restoration comedy takes its story from true events from well before the Restoration, indeed before there was any need for a Restoration, as the titular character, Sir John Hotham (Mark Addy,) was the Governor of Hull in 1642, just as the Civil War was about to break out. His story was a scandal that put the city at the centre of the action, so it's natural that Hull's best and funniest living playwright should be chosen to tell it. But he must have been busy so they just got Richard Bean in to recycle some of the more successful bits from One Man, Two Guvnors.

This being a true story from a bloody chapter of history it didn't end well for Hotham, so the play gets that out of the way by starting with his execution, and getting his chopped-off head to take us on a flashback to his not being able to decide whose side to take in the coming conflict.


He decides to hedge his bets and appear to favour both Parliament and the King, making his situation worse by taking money from both sides and using it as dowry to marry his soppy daughter Frances (Sarah Middleton) to the Puritan Peregrine Pelham (Neil D'Souza.) But she's a romantic who's fallen for the disguised Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe,) whose gay German cousin Prince Rupert (Rowan Polonski) is wooing her brother Durand (Pierro Niel-Mee.)


So, as in a real Restoration comedy there's a lot going on, and I can't fault Phillip Breen's production for energy, and certainly not Max Jones' excellent design - the pornographic Inigo Jones bed might be the big running joke but the drawbridge on the small Swan stage was my highlight in a show with a lot of strong visuals. But as often seems to happen with Bean's comedies I found a few gags worth laughing out loud at, a fair bit to smile about, but nowhere near the amount of hilarity much of the audience seemed to be finding.


At least the production has included a Barely Athletic member, as Matt Sutton plays Saltmarsh, a polygamous proto-hippie who may or may not be having an affair with Hotham's wife Lady Sarah (Caroline Quentin.) But, having already played in Hull, it's noticeable that none of the inside jokes have been changed for this leg of the run, as references to parts of the city being good or bad are left in with a pause for a laugh from a Stratford-upon-Avon audience

There's also a couple of instances of Bean cannibalising his earlier hit One Man, Two Guvnors, notably in having a young actor play an athletically accident-prone old man, the put-upon servant Drudge (Danielle Bird.) More welcome is the return of musical interludes by Grant Olding, this time giving the political issues of the time the Billy Bragg treatment. As a balls-out, frantic comedy it's hard to pin a reason why The Hypocrite was only so-so for me; perhaps it tried too hard - it didn't hit the spot for me but much of the audience clearly loved it.

The Hypocrite by Richard Bean is booking until the 29th of April at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Pete Le May.

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