7 – 30 Aug (not 16) 1725 (1855) @ Assembly George Street
By Danielle Farrow
John Godber directs Hull Truck Theatre in the 25th Anniversary production of his Olivier Award-winning comedy. Such a sentence should definitely introduce a fine piece of theatre. So why doesn’t it? That popular phrase applied to a few sports, “a game of two halves”, comes into play here, but unfortunately this production is in two unequal parts with the longer section rather flat and occasionally even boring.
Rousing anthems increase expectations of a stimulating performance, as an ex-player’s bet forces amateur Rugby League underdogs Wheatsheaf Arms, led in training by Abi Titmuss’ gym instructor, into pulling their weight down the gym and squaring up to the unbeatable Cobblers Arms, but the playing of the piece actually mirrors the story – in the final game there eventually emerges energy and commitment, the real underdog for the bulk of the performance.
Decent lines flagged for want of pace, actors simply not being on the ball when it came to picking up cues. A lot of narrative verse – despite being cleverly written as patriotic invocations in the vein of Shakespeare’s famous Henry V speeches – wound up lacklustre and single-toned. Occasionally actors, mostly in monologues, did produce flashes of brilliance, hinting at what they are capable of delivering, but their potential was not being put into practice in the field.
Only the playing of the decisive game – complete with an ingenious manner of providing the opposition – dragged the audience right in there with the team, urging them on, groaning at every loss and delighting in every gain, with plenty of laugh-out-loud appreciation for the players‘ antics. The energy here is what had been wanted, and wanting, from the beginning.
The simple set of sky backdrop, benches and gym props served the story well, allowing the few set changes to be fairly quick, while lighting helped music with apt scene setting, but the pace really was ponderous, redeemed only by the set piece at the end when it seemed the performances had finally warmed up – too late in the day to save the game on this occasion, but possibly they can rise above such a disappointing showing on other dates.