Richard Bean’s The Hypocrite, a collaboration between the RSC and Hull Truck for Hull City of Culture, proves he is our leading writer of farce says 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.
To March 25, sold out but returns may be available.