If there is a better show at Hull Truck Theatre in the coming months, even years, I would very much like to see it. This latest Hull truck production, written by the masterly Richard Vergette is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word.
A superb cast of Laura Aramayo, Marc Graham, Christine Mackie, John Elkington and Jim English make this an absolute must-see treat of epic proportions.
Beautiful direction from Mark Babych and wonderful set and costume design from Dawn Allsopp just add to the grandness of this visually stunning story.
The effervescent opening with Neville Chaimberlain claiming ‘Peace In Our Time’ in September 1938 sees the cleverly written start of the budding relationship between Sylvia (Aramayo) and Tom (Graham) as they celebrate the good news that everybody at that time had been hoping for.
The relationship between the two young lovers is beautifully and masterfully developed early on and then of course came the moment of the declaration of war with Germany and suddenly the whole dynamic was changed as if the stage was balanced on a sixpence.
The music in the background set the tone absolutely expertly and the story became a genuine roller coaster of emotions and huge respect, not only for the full cast which included a community ensemble, but also as we were given a ride through it, for the people who lived through this most awful part of Hull’s history.
But along with the very powerful heart rending moments there was also some fun and comedy on offer that just lifted the mood in the auditorium and set people giggling. The class divide between Hessle and Hessle Road is also perfectly acted as rich (Tom, Grace and Gilbert) are brought together with rough and ready (Sylvia, Maurice and David) by the now blossoming relationship and the destruction of World War 2.
The part of Brian (also played by Graham) is perfectly pitched as the wide boy looter and black market Spiv, just adding to the character that the production exudes. John Elkington gives a wonderful performance as both Maurice and Gilbert, he and Graham seemingly handle playing two roll’s with great poise and minimal effort, a true indication of their prowess.
The desperation of war is superbly established and extremely effectively communicated, no more so than when Hull is hit by a stray bomb after the all clear has sounded, killing a young mother and her baby despite Maurice’s attempts to save them.
The interval is also perfectly timed leaving a big cliffhanger caused by the blitz of 7 May 1941 when Hull City Centre was virtually flattened.
You barely have a moment to settle back into your seat before you are shocked with the opening to the 2nd half beginning where the 1st half left off.
There is a big change in the emotional state on stage after the interval and it’s not just caused by David signing up and going off to fight, but once again the hopelessness of war is very well expressed and the occasional one-liner from either Sylvia or Grace does just nicely lift the mood again.
The way the set is designed and the sound effects of the bombing give you a sense of what it must have been like to live through this tragic period as you are left emotionally tested while always hoping for the best for the characters who you really identify with and develop feelings and emotions as powerful as a speedboat on the Humber Estuary.
The characters are thoroughly believable and lovable all at the same time and the ensemble cast are not just merely there to make up the numbers they are there as an essential part of the storyline and used to great affect by the director.
After the literally heart-wrenching moment of an incident caused by the war, particularly on the Normandy Beaches on D-Day, there is genuine shock and bewilderment, followed by some harsh words which then eventually give way to thankfulness.
After the abject failure of the BBC to include this ‘North-East Coast Town’ in its recent series about Blitz Cities, Hull now has a very proud answer to that snobbish failure, the next UK City of Culture can be outstandingly proud of its traditionally iconic theatre that was founded by Mike Bradwell almost out of protest.
After the performance Marc Graham said: “It’s a really good cast, they’re lovely to work with.
“The ensemble cast are older members of the youth theatre here so they really know what they’re doing as well.”
Speaking about playing two characters, including a lead, he said: “I loved it… It was really great to be able to tap into the two characters, Brian is obviously the secondary character who is quite a wide boy, while Tom really gets down and serious.
“With the injury that Brian suffers I just kind of thought about how would somebody like that react to losing something like a leg.”
Speaking about working on this particular project with Laura Aramayo he said: “It’s great to be able to work with her on something like this, I’ve worked with her before but only on small stuff so to work with her on this, with the run it’s having is great.
“We had a good talk before about what our characters are going to do and what it would be like for them and of course with the class divide which was a real struggle and still is a real struggle unfortunately.”
I then spoke to the writer Richard Vergette about this premiere performance after the three previews last week.
He was obviously very happy with how it had gone, saying: “We let it go tonight and it seemed to go well and the audience response was very enthusiastic so yes I’m a very happy man and a relieved man tonight.
He then spoke about his delight at how the cast had handled the story: “I think it’s really important that when you’re working with a company on a piece that is as emotionally intense as this is that you’ve got a group of people who are willing to invest themselves as enthusiastically and passionately as they did.
“I’m absolutely delighted at the way that the actors have responded to the challenges of the piece.”
Talking about the community ensemble who are involved he said: “I didn’t realise when I wrote it that the community would be involved but I’m delighted with them.
“They’re a real bonus and they are a very important part of it not just an add on.”
Clearly enjoying talking about the production he then said: “This play is about Hull, for Hull and it’s about one of the most desperate times in its history, which largely the population is not aware of.
“They don’t know that this was the most bombed city outside of London, 1200 people perished, 3000 were injured or maimed 90-95% of houses were destroyed or damaged at least once and that the city re-grouped and re-found itself is a testament to its courage and its ability to take care of each other.”
It is a play for Hull but the writer would also like to see it go outside Hull because “The themes are universal and people maybe don’t realise what a part Hull played in the war.”
You can buy tickets in the box office at the theatre on Ferensway, on 01482 323638 or online at http://www.hulltruck.co.uk/book-tickets/buy-online
The show runs until Saturday 24th October