BWW Review: THE HYPOCRITE, Swan Theatre
"You'd let everyone have the vote? Imagine what idiots would get elected then" is one of many knowing jokes from Richard Bean's latest farce The Hypocrite. It follows the roguish Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull and MP for Beverley, as he tries to sense which way the wind is blowing on the eve of the English Civil War.
Set in Hull, Hotham is charged with securing the large cache of munitions in the city. Whoever has access to it is likely to have a decisive advantage in the war. The trouble is, he's been paid to do so by both sides. Much like Bean's previous smash hit One Man Two Guvnors, Hotham is being pulled in two opposite directions - by the King and by Parliament. He tries gamely to satisfy both at the same time but in true farcical style, his deceptions twist and turn until the climatic final scene where all the strands collide.
Mark Addy as Hotham is suitably morose with a devilish turn of phrase - mainly at the expense of his long-suffering wife (a feisty Caroline Quentin). Hotham's dialogue consists of dry put-downs and withering contempt while he tries to preserve his own privilege. There is more than a little Edmund Blackadder about him.
Bean's script is littered with jokes for the people of Hull (after all, he is a Hullensian and it was written for Hull's City of Culture 2017). Bean takes the city's pulse and provides the laughs with digs at local regions or the beauty of Hull's women. The result is that as the play moves out of Hull, it feels more regional pantomime than it should.
Where The Hypocrite really surprises and delights is its music. Composed by Bean's previous collaborator Grant Olding, the songs that punctuate the action are sung in a type of protest folk style, a la Billy Bragg or Frank Turner. They remind us that as the laughs subside, the war for ordinary people felt like 'the world turned upside down'.
While The Hypocrite fails to hit the highs of One Man Two Guvnors in terms of laughs and it does feel a little flabby at times, there is much to be enjoyed. A strong ensemble cast provides the sense of chaos needed to make such a farce work. Laura Elsworthy as Connie, our narrator and Hotham's servant, does a sterling job of guiding us through the dramatic devices - "You know, like you saw in the first half" is one of her gems.
There is a joyous Englishness to the farce. As the first half ends and Hotham raises the drawbridge to bar Charles I from entering the city, he is called a traitor and threatened with execution. Hotham turns, pauses and says "Well I thought that went rather well". Yes, indeed it did, sir.
Photo credit: Pete Le May