The Culture – Review – Hull Truck Theatre
By Roger Crow, January 2018
I spent 17 months as a City of Culture widower while my partner, as a Marketing Coordinator, was consumed by the ravenous creative beast that turned Hull into a focus for the UK’s arts scene. While some sniffy London-based critics wondered if anyone would bother going north of Watford for a year’s worth of music, theatre, arts installations and more, I regularly made the 20-mile commute to a wealth of terrific, bizarre, entertaining and unforgettable experiences.
I was also one of the many unofficial consultants who utilised every nugget of trivia for shows such as Mind on the Run – a tribute to avant garde tunesmith Basil Kirchin, and more mainstream gigs like a John Williams concert, which brightened a very dull winter’s evening.
Then there were the art shows, ranging from the grungy to the fantastic, and the gigs, such as The Flaming Lips in Zebedee’s Yard, and Where Are We Now?, which distilled everything the City of Culture was about. Dazzling, fun, offbeat daring brilliance.
Even on my birthday I didn’t mind helping attach barrier banners for Epicycle, an August acrobatic show which we waited hours to see. It got rained off on the first of two nights so I missed the show. But it hardly mattered. It was all part of the experience that proved Hull (weather willing) could be a major player on the world arts stage.
“Everything turned up to 11”
Behind the scenes I glimpsed some of the politics and the gossip, and had a nightly update on every aspect of each show and event to the point where I wondered if that year would ever end.
Distilling some of the magic and madness into a two-act play is The Culture, James Graham’s farce which has many howling this Saturday Night at Hull Truck Theatre. It’s a comedy with everything turned up to 11, so the eager volunteers are ear-splittingly enthusiastic; statisticians like Lizzie monitor every aspect of each show and event with the passion of a robot stuck on fast forward mode, and the artists in the midst of this chaos are often hilarious.
Then there’s the everyday folk, such as Andrew (Dinnerladies) Dunn as Dennis, a local punter who pops in to the Hull 2017 offices to complain about rubbish on his doorstep being mistaken for art. And Clive, the suit from Coventry who is looking for advice as his town prepares to take over as the next City of Culture.
Naturally wires are crossed, confusion occurs and there’s plenty of sticks being grabbed at the wrong end. Lending their dulcet tones to the proceedings are Maureen Lipman and Tom Courtenay, often to hilarious effect.
I’m exhausted by the end of the show, so have an idea how drained the cast must be, dashing from set to set, and executing costume changes so effective, I have no idea the same actors are playing two or three roles until half way through.
It’s a great show which hits the nail on the head when a couple of characters sum up the brilliance of Hull’s tenure as City of Culture. From the breathtaking Place des Anges (floating angels) in the summer of 2016 to ‘The Land of Green Ginger’, and Maxine Peake’s hugely ambitious The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca at the tail end of 2017, it was an extraordinary time.
“Not for the easily shocked”
Obviously not everything can be referenced in The Culture (one employee coughing feathers is a nice reference to Place des Anges), but it gives a flavour of the organised madness which pushed some volunteers, employees and partners to their limits.
Expertly directed by Mark Babych, this is a great way to sum up and round off an extraordinary time in Hull’s recent history. It’s also a reminder of why Andrew Dunn is one of our greatest comedic actors. His experience on Dinnerladies proved he could dispense a wealth of great one-liners. In the flesh he’s a sight and sound to behold. As is Amelia Donkor, whose capacity for recalling vast swathes of marketing jargon is gobsmacking. Martin Hyder and Nicola Reynolds are also superb in multiple roles.
It’s not for the easily shocked, and some of the risqué gags are a tad obvious, but as with Hull Truck’s outstanding 2017 production of The Hypocrite, this is hugely entertaining stuff whether you were one of the hundreds of employees keeping the vehicle on course or just went along for the ride.