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Posts Tagged ‘Hull Truck’

This show has been part if my life now for 35 years, since the original West End production at the Astoria all those years ago. I consider it the best British musical of my lifetime and I never tire if it. Its score, seeped in choral and folk traditions, has so many gorgeous melodies it’s always uplifting.

Based on Melvyn Bragg’s book, inspired by his grandfather’s life, it’s an epic sweep of several decades of Cumbrian social history from the closing years of the 19th century to immediately after the First World War. The Tallantire’s move from the land to the mines and back, living through challenges to their relationship, children, war and death. In 1984 some thought it wasn’t an appropriate subject for musical theatre, a genre largely occupied by shows about chorus girls getting their big break and chirpy (mostly American) romantic comedies. One year later the English version of Les Miserables arrived, but this broke the ground, with the bonus of being quintessentially British.

Douglas Rintoul’s production uses the now well established actor-musician mode, but with musical standards under Benn Goddard’s direction way higher than most. Jean Chan’s simple design, beautifully lit by Prema Mehta, is more impressionistic than realistic and very evocative, with very effective use of a revolve by Jane Gibson’s movement. With some playing two, or in one case multiple roles, the cast of just eleven, including show MD Tom Self, manage to bring scenes in mines, trenches, union meetings and of course hirings to life, led by Oliver Hembrough as a very charismatic John and Lauryn Redding as a very passionate Emily. Lara Lewis and James William-Pattison are lovely as children May & Harry, the latter doubling up to play Joe Sharp. It really is a fine ensemble, with Lloyd Gorman as Jackson, TJ Holmes as Seth, Samuel Martin as Isaac and Jon Bonner transforming from Pennington into Blacklock, recruiting officer and vicar!

I always think the sign of a great Hired Man is how much the second act moves you, and how uplifted you feel back at the hiring as it end, and this one brought tears to my eyes, not just the story, but the beauty of the music and its interpretation. You have until 18th May to catch it in Hornchurch, then in Hull and Oldham. Be there to see this ground-breaking masterpiece of British theatre.

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A shortened visit this year, to facilitate a ‘pit-stop’ back in London before I travel the Silk Road from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to Beijing! So, anything that I can see in London is automatically excluded – there still isn’t enough time, of course.

We started well with a new adaptation (from the Stephen King novella, rather than the film) of The Shawshank Redemption (****). It was well adapted by comedians Owen O’Neill & Dave Johns and the cast was also largely made up of comedians, led by Omid Djalili. In 100 unbroken minutes, it managed to bring out both the hopelessness of prison life and the depth of the friendship at its core. Simply staged (though elaborate for the fringe!) with five two-story metal towers and a handful of benches, with a brooding soundtrack, it packed quite a punch.

In a contrast typical of Edinburgh, we followed this with a concert from favourite Scottish folkie Karine Polwart (*****). I’d seen her with others but not doing her own show and it was a delight. She may be a folkie, but all of her songs are originals (except for a welcome tribute to another Scottish favourite Michael Marra, who died this year) and gorgeous they are, with backing by acoustic guitar and ‘percussion’. The Queens Hall was the perfect venue, with acoustics and atmosphere worthy of her talents.

Day Two saw me back at ‘second home’ The Traverse Theatre for the Abbey Theatre’s Quietly (****), where a catholic and a protestant meet in a pub during a Northern Ireland v Poland football international 36 years after one had killed the other’s father in a pub bombing during a similar match. It was a thought-provoking and original dissection of ‘the troubles’ at a psychological level and the addition of a Polish barman added a contemporary twist.

After the now customary & mandatory visit to the International Photographic Exhibition (**** – but too many contrived, posed, stylised unnatural shots this year), the afternoon saw me in a stationary minibus with 13 others and a storyteller telling us about his recreation of one of  his granddad’s jaunts to Cape Wrath (***)  in the far north of Scotland. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did and proved to be a charming hour.

I’d heard good  things about the National Theatre of Wales new show, The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning (*****), but I wasn’t really ready for how good. It reminded me of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch – thrillingly theatrical, tackling something about as topical and relevant as its possible to be. It’s a fascinating real life story with a Welsh connection and I was captivated from beginning to end. NTW continues to lead the way.

The common feature of my favourite living artists – Howard Hodgkin, David Hockney – seems to be colour, and Peter Doig is another. His Edinburgh exhibition (****) is bigger than his relatively recent Tate one, and though some of the 36 paintings were at both, there was much new here – plus lots of sketches, prints and posters – and the NGS (former RSA) space was perfect, allowing them to breathe and enabling you to get enough distance from them.

Things took a dip after this with a play called Making News (**) about a scandal at the BBC. It was underwritten and under-rehearsed, with lots of dull patches between a few big laughs. This was another of those companies of comedians, but this lot couldn’t act so well – particularly Suki Webster, who was as wooden as an entire forest. The dip continued for John Godber’s Losing the Plot (**), a play about the mid-life crisis which was a touch implausible and with too many short scenes between long gaps for it to flow well. Not even Corrie’s Eddie Windass could rescue it! When I first came to Edinburgh in the mid-80’s, Godber’s work for Hull Truck (Up n’ Under, Bouncers, Shakers, Teechers…..) was compulsory viewing. I think I should have stuck with my memories.

Things picked up again when we boarded the coach Leaving Planet Earth (****), space ‘jumping’ to New Earth just before we got to the extraordinary Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. The pre-emails asking us for our pledges and for objects for the Old Earth Museum had made me a bit cautious and sceptical and it took a while for the narrative to settle, but when it did, I found the story of our exodus from our dying planet engaging and thought-provoking. Promenading to different scenes over four floors of this amazing venue, Grid Iron’s main festival show was a technical and logistical marvel and the venue truly was a star.

Our first (and last!) dose of classical music kick-started Tuesday with a wonderful, and wonderfully different, Queens Hall recital by a 13-piece (mostly) woodwind (inc. horn!) ensemble called Nachtmusique (****). The programme was entirely Mozart with pieces for various combinations of instruments ending in a 45 minute piece for the whole ensemble. Gorgeous!

What can one say about Coriolanus (***) in Mandarin with two on-stage heavy metal bands called Miserable Faith and Suffocated?! It was a bit gimmicky, but it just about worked in telling the story of the revenge of the scorned man. When the actors were allowed to get on with it unencumbered, they were great, though the acting of the large ensemble was somewhat ragged, with particularly wimpy fighting, making me speculate that they had been recruited locally (later proved correct). The surtitles were often odd, as if they used google translate back from the Mandarin translation, and oddly paced in that they didn’t always keep up! Still, good to welcome another overseas theatre company to give us their take on The Bard.

A few wee exhibitions (see, gone native) to start my final day, but none really excited. Conde Nast Photos (***) were good if you like your photos highly stylised, obsessively posed & very contrived, but I overdosed a bit on it all. The City Arts Centre’s companion exhibition Dressed to Impress (***.5) showcased dress in Scottish painting through history and was a bit more satisfying, with a few real gems. Across the road in the Fruitmarket Gallery, Gabriel Orozco (**) was all circles – too many circles!

David Harrower’s Ciara (***.5) is a monologue which I wouldn’t have booked if I’d known it was a monologue, but I was glad I did as it was extremely well written and performed brilliantly by Blythe Duff! We followed this with my final show – I’m With The Band (***.5) – about a band called The Union splitting up, a metaphor for – you guessed it – the union that is the UK. It was clever and the characterisations were very good, but it was a bit heavy-handed.

A 3.5* final day in a  4* festival. With a wimpy 12 shows in 5 days, will I be alllowed to return???

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Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink at the Bush Theatre was one of my best new plays of 2011 and I will be surprised if this doesn’t end up as one of the best of 2013. He seems to have cornered the market in feel-good, charming, heart-warming, uplifting plays. It’s appropriate that it’s co-produced by Hull Truck as it’s very much in the spirit of their 1980’s work (and indeed in the spirit of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, about to get a West End revival).

We’re back in Hull, in a changing room after each of six football matches. It’s a Sunday 5-a-side league comprising just four gay teams and our team, Barely Athletic, are up against The Lesbian Rovers, Man City and Tranny United! Coach / player Viv has been thrown out by the lesbians and is determined to win something, anything; deputy coach / player Danny is using this experience as part of his coaching studies and Viv’s bereaved brother-in-law Joe is the token straight. Busker Beardy can’t decide what to play at his Hull Pride audition and new boy, library assistant Luke, has been recruited by Danny for more than footballing interest.

It’s a bit of a slow start, but once you get to know the characters its captivating. Danny & Luke’s relationship develops, Joe’s grief is exposed, Viv’s competitiveness becomes obsessive and Beardy’s promiscuousness risks team success. Even though you’re only with these people for 90 minutes, you feel like you’ve known them for a whole lot longer; great characterisation. Add to this some very funny lines and deeply human stories to tell, and they play has you under its spell. Watford Palace is a big theatre for such an intimate piece, but Lucy Osborne’s design draws you into the changing room to compensate.

All five actors are excellent. Vivienne Gibbs conveys Viv’s drive, energy and competitiveness, you really feel for Matt Sutton’s Joe and Andy Rush (also superb in The Kitchen Sink) makes Geoff hapless but completely loveable. Jamie Samuel invests real emotional power in Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan is simply extraordinary as naive, lonely, socially inept 19-year-old virgin Luke. There is a moment when he reads from his diary when I was laughing out loud and crying at the same time.

Don’t wait until the promised autumn tour – get to Watford to see it in its final week and you’ll probably want to see it again in the autumn. Another triumph for the indispensable Paines Plough.

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