Caroline Quentin is a woman behaving gladly to be part of Hull City of Culture 2017, in Richard Bean’s latest play. Nick Ahad meets her.
Actors live their lives in the hope that they will appear in a hit show – even the ones who say they don’t. The ironic curse is if that dream comes true, many generations will refer to them as ‘best remembered as…” in that hit show.
Take Martin Freeman; one of the world’s most bankable actors with roles in American TV and movies: he’ll always be Tim from The Office.
Step forward also Caroline Quentin.
One quarter of the quartet that came together to create the special alchemy of Men Behaving Badly, Quentin will always be associated with a show that captured the spirit of the 1990s. It made stars of Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey and the two women who played the objects of their affections, Leslie Ash and Caroline Quentin.
A further curse specific to the Men Behaving Badly alumni is that whenever they are interviewed, even all these years on, journalists still find themselves sorely tempted to make a nod to their behaviour, bad or otherwise. It’s just too easy.
One day maybe an interviewer will resist the temptation. Not today. The problem is, you see, that Caroline Quentin does behave badly – in a very good way. She swears, she jokes, she lets loose her big, filthy-as-you-might-expect laugh on a regular basis. “Hang on, can you hear me. Hang on, I’m walking around the rehearsal room, how about now? Is that better?” asks Quentin. The smile in her voice is so clear to hear, the image of herself charging around the rehearsal room in Hull so vivid, I’m tempted to pretend her mobile signal is bad and I can’t hear her to prolong the performance.
I confess as much.
“You cheeky bugger. That would have been hilarious, me striding around the rehearsal room for the whole interview,” says Quentin, the filthy laugh filling the room.
And with that, she’s off. A 20 minute break before rehearsals start again, she’s striding – you get the impression Quentin is a Woman Who Strides – around Hull.
“No bull****, I’m loving being Hull. The fact that you can walk everywhere, the art galleries, the river. I’m doing bloody Dry January, but I’m still enjoying the restaurants and I’ve been visiting a lot of the historical sites,” she says. “It really p***** me off that people were so s***** about Hull becoming the City of Culture. If they said the things about a religion that they said about Hull, there would be an outcry.”
Quentin is in the city playing her part in the city’s big year as Hull celebrates 2017 as the UK’s City of Culture. As she is right to point out, there were several sections of the media which were more than a little snooty.
Those of us who have kept a closer eye on Hull knew the city was always going to rise to the occasion. You don’t give birth to Tom Courtenay and Barrie Rutter and nurture Larkin, Godber and Minghella without having something inspiring in your sea air.
One of the city’s most popular cultural sons these days, raised on that same sea air, is Richard Bean. Having cut his teeth writing plays for Hull Truck, Bean went on to write at the Royal Court, then the National and now he’s coming home with his latest play, The Hypocrite and bringing with him one of the world’s most famous theatre companies.
It is the combination of Bean, Hull Truck and The Royal Shakespeare Company that is bringing The Hypocrite to the stage. It is also the combination that has tempted Quentin to the North.
“I’m the only one in the cast who’s from south of the Humber. Although my dad came from Oldham. Does that count? It doesn’t count, does it?” she asks, immediately answering her own question without pause for punctuation. “I’m the interloper, the foreigner in the midst of all these Yorkshire folk, but that does give me an interesting perspective on the play and the story we’re telling.”
The story being told is an infamous moment in Hull’s history, when King Charles I was denied entry to Hull at Beverley Gate, an event which began the English Civil War. An odd sentence, but one that is entirely true and one which plays into the hands of Bean perfectly. Since the early days of his writing career his specialism has been finding the completely absurd and making it utterly hilarious.
His take on this moment in English history is to tell the story of Sir John Hotham, at the time the Governor of Hull, who is charged with denying entry to the king. Another Yorkshire boy done good, Mark Addy, plays the governor and Quentin, his wife. It would appear that the multi-Olivier winning writer of One Man Two Guvnors has done it again. “I read the play and as soon as I did, well, I didn’t exactly play hard to get,” says Quentin.
“I have two teenage children at home, so it has to be something pretty special to take me away from them, but this is pretty special. I didn’t know Richard, but I wanted to work with him, plus I get to play Mark Addy’s wife, it’s what I think they call a no-brainer.”
The play, she says, does that thing that Bean also seems to specialise in: creating jokes for everyone that have hidden inside them something a little extra to Hullensians. It also features the now recognisable Bean trope of some quite surreal humour.
“There are parts of the play where you read it and just think ‘what?’ and then we do it and everyone is falling about laughing. There are points where he does something and then just pushes it that bit further and everyone is just giggling the whole time.”
The other element that tempted Quentin North is Hull. Well, it might not have been an initial attraction, but it is now.
“The welcome has been amazing. It feels like the whole of Hull is coming to see the show,” says Quentin. She’s not far wrong; the show has already been extended from its original run, now finishing on March 25 rather than March 18 as planned, although the bad news for those who haven’t yet secured a ticket is that all the performances have already sold out. “I was in the foyer the other day and a lady who was waiting just threw her arms around me and gave me a big kiss.”
It’s what we call a Yorkshire welcome.
“You’re definitely very friendly up here.”
While we are friendly, there is no denying that the title of City of Culture appears to be making a difference to the city, increasing the goodwill to all men. I was with Barrie Rutter in Hull the week before speaking to Quentin and several times people stopped for a chat and to tell the artistic director of Northern Broadsides that they were excited to see his restaging of Richard III this year.
“Everyone just seems so bloody thrilled by the whole thing; the show, the City of Culture,” says Quentin. “My boy came to stay and I took him to the Deep and around the city. We saw the Blade, which is just wonderful (the enormous art installation in the middle of the city).
“It really is quite a time to be in Hull.”
And she really means it. It’s not like she’s saying so because she’s on her best behaviour.
The Hypocrite, Hull Truck, Feb 24 to March 25. Sold out, but returns may be available on 01482 323638.