Culture critic Holly Reaney enjoys an evening in Wolverhampton watching their hilarious pantomimeWritten by Holly Reaney on 13th December 2017
Review: ‘The Hypocrite’ at the RSC
Ruth Horsburgh reviews this 'utterly and wonderfully ridiculous' play, currently hitting the boards at the RSC
Set in the pressurised context of the 1640s, in the lead up to the Civil War, division was rife throughout King Charles I’s reign. Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull and ‘the hypocrite’, is caught between his loyalties to his king, and to Parliament. Sir John must decide who to support, not only in order to support his family and but also in order to keep his head. In his own words, he must decide between ‘advantage and honour’.
“Director Phillip Breen has helped to create a spirited and witty evening of entertainment, full of farcical comic interaction
Written by Richard Bean, who also wrote the hugely successful One Man, Two Guvnors, Bean is from Hull and with 2017 being Hull’s year as ‘City of Culture’, this play is an homage to Bean’s hometown - an historic and playful nod of approval. The director, Phillip Breen, has helped to create a spirited and witty evening of entertainment, full of farcical comic interaction. Slapstick comedy combines with witty fast-paced dialogue to follow Sir John’s story. It starts with his execution, but what follows is a feast for the eyes and ears.
“The biggest laugh and impromptu applause came from a joke on the insanity of giving everyone the electoral vote
The standout character was Sir John Hotham himself. Mark Addy’s Hotham should have been a dislikeable character, yet Addy made him a compelling protagonist. As Lady Hotham, Caroline Quentin’s seething glares and infuriated blasts at her incompetent husband were convincingly comical. The biggest laugh and impromptu applause came from a joke on the insanity of giving everyone the electoral vote and the idiots who would run the country if this were allowed to happen. In post-Brexit times and at the beginning of a Trump presidency, this was a well-judged remark that rang all too true.
This was a strong company performance, with most characters given brief moments to shine. Laura Elsworthy gave an excellent performance as Hotham’s loyal but stony-faced servant, Connie. Frances, the hugely naïve and air-headed daughter of the Hothams was well realised by Sarah Middleton. The transformation of the Hotham’s son, Durand (played by Pierro Niel-Mee) from legal pedant to lovesick suitor, ending the play dressed in a bright yellow feathered outfit, was one of the highlights of the evening. My personal favourite supporting cast member was Danielle Bird’s ancient, mostly mute, yet rib-achingly funny Drudge. The ancient yet remarkably resilient 108 year old servant to the Hothams was frequently thrown about the stage, hung from a wall, or tossed into a cellar. Great gymnastic skills were demonstrated as Drudge was left hanging precariously onto a rising drawbridge or climbing up a rope to perch on a chandelier.
“A simple but ingenious set
The set was simple, but ingenious. The drawbridge was particularly impressive, but the use of the trapdoors, balcony and various alcoves always elicited laughter from the audience. Curtains, commodes and chests all served as timely hiding places, but the most preposterous had to be the much vaunted Inigo Jones’ designed bed. As an audience, we had been warned throughout that just looking at this lavish bed would seduce us, and it did – into roaring fits of laughter and startled gasps with its phallic golden horses and cherubs. All utterly and wonderfully ridiculous.
“Crude, lewd, and exuberant
There was never a dull moment in this production; with slick verbal and physical sparring, cross-dressing royals and even a glowing ghost. This was a display of relentless slapstick with several frantic chases around the stage and auditorium. Between many of the scenes, catchy musical interludes performed by enraged protestors added to the drama. The narrative of this play was based in fact, its presentation given considerable poetic licence, but with so much to engage the senses, you just wanted the silly revelries to continue. This play proclaims that there is nothing wrong with slapstick. Crude, lewd, and exuberant, it deservedly received a rapturous reception from its audience.
The Hypocrite is at the RSC until April 29th. For more information, please visit: https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-hypocrite/