Review: ‘The Hypocrite’, Stratford-upon-Avon
This well-received play at the RSC starring Caroline Quentin and The Full Monty actor Mark Addy as a formidable, acrimonious sparring act ends on Sat April 29.
Richard Bean’s riotous new play could be called Carry On Cavalier or Puritan. Take your pick – it’s duplicitous central character Sir John Hotham is on both on sides at once.
The Hypocrite is an enjoyable, raucous romp about the English Civil War – and how it all started in Hull, the UK City of Culture 2017…Don’t be put off by the phrase ‘political farce’; you definitely won’t be bored, just be prepared for the bawdy. Playwright Bean is known for writing plays with a high gag count, from the 2011 huge-hit farce One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden, to the musical adaptation of Made in Dagenham with Gemma Arterton.
The first words I heard when I sat down were: “I wouldn’t mind squeezing your pips!” To clarify that wasn’t to me, but a little ‘politically incorrect’ pre-show ‘banter’ between a 17th century female apple-seller and a Leveller. It was that kind of night. Lots of bosom heaving, jokes about stools, cross-dressing princes, a prostitute called Sweet-Lips, visual gags including throwing Drudge – a 108-year-old servant – into a cellar and the best line I’ve ever heard in a farce: “Father, you are wearing a commode!”
Caroline Quentin and Full Monty actor Mark Addy are a formidable, acrimonious sparring act as misogynistic John Hotham and his fifth wife, Lady Sarah. Listening to them is like the 17th century equivalent of Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairy-tale of New York – as they come up with ever more degrading insults. He’s a “half-wiped arse”; she’s a “scrotum-breathed vale of nothing”. Nice. You’ll also hear the word “feculent” rather a lot!
If that’s not enough there’s also a polygamous libertine, an erotic ‘Inigo Jones’ designed bed no-one can look at due to its aphrodisiac properties, the obligatory climactic romp and acoustic protest songs performed by actor-musician Josh Sneesby – who a girl sitting behind me compared to Ed Sherran.
The Hypocrite is a play that starts at the end and then rewinds 14 months earlier to 1642. It’s based on the true story of the Governor of Hull, Sir John Hotham who plays the Royalists and Puritans off against each other for his own gain.
In Bean’s tale Hotham is trying to raise the £2,000 dowry to marry off Frances – the youngest of his 17 children – to 56-year-old self-flagellating Puritan MP Peregrine Pelham (Neil D’Souza).
Sarah Middleton plays the silly, romantically-inclined Frances who spends most of her time shrieking hysterically back-and-forth across the stage before falling in love with two fabulously flamboyant princes – Prince Rupert of the Rhein and King Charles’ son James (Rowan Polonski and Jordan Metcalfe are very entertaining).
It’s a joint RSC and Hull Truck Theatre production and was a sell-out when staged in Hull earlier this year as the first show in the jam-packed 2017 theatre programme. The playwright, whose partner Erica Whyman is deputy director of the RSC, hails from Hull, as are half the excellent cast. Despite the laughs, servant girl Connie’s predicament brought home that it wasn’t much fun being poor, or a woman.
rsc.org.uk, Tel: 01789 403493