RSC Swan Theatre
HEADS Sir John Hotham wins, and heads Sir John loses. The Governor of Hull is facing a dilemma of his own making in
Richard Bean’s riotous good old fashioned unapologetic British farce.
The co-production between the RSC and Hull Truck – as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture – takes as its starting point Hull’s strategic position as a major arsenal as England slips towards civil war in 1642, and from then on historic fact pretty much goes out the window.
Not that the audience cared a jot judging by the constant laughter and broad smiles apparent throughout Phillip Breen’s helter-skelter production.
Mark Addy’s wonderful big red faced misogynistic Sir John is not a likeable character – but it’s hard not to like him all the same.
He barely has a unfunny line – “They’re a funny looking lot, Hull folk. Tattooed, bald, unshaven, I couldn’t commend the men either”.
Sir John needs cash as a dowry to marry off swooning Shakespeare-reading daughter Frances (Sarah Middleton) to a mad puritan, so takes half the money from the Royalists and the other half from Parliament – which causes what proves to be a literal headache when both want control of the munitions.
Sir John has a lot on his plate, not least his out for her own ends wife Lady Sarah, played with an ever-knowing twinkle in her eye by Caroline Quentin.
Lady Sarah loves shoes and sex, and if some of Shakespeare’s many references to sex are sometimes lost on modern audiences, there is no ambiguity in the bawdiness here, from non-minced words to the phallic posts on the notorious ‘Inigo Jones’ bed.
Shakespeare’s himself is also the focus of a string of cracking gags. When being told King Lear is simply about a mad king, Sir John incredulously responds as to the play’s three-and-half hour length (much to the amusement of the RSC’s most recent Lear Antony Sher watching on).
If the plot is a little convoluted, then Sir John’s cook Connie (Laura Elworthy) is a fine chorus-like character who keeps the audience up to speed.
There is a not a weak link in the supporting cast, and the addition of a trio of protest-singers is a masterstroke. Grant Olding’s songs are more memorable than those of many a musical.
The Hypocrite is simply great fun.
The Hypocrite runs until April 11. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.