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A perfect farce off to a severed head start

The Hypocrite, Swan Theatre, Stratford until April 29

Faced with writing a play to mark Hull's year as City of Culture, Richard Bean, who grew up in the city, focused on the city's claim to fame that they started the English Civil War.

But he soon realised that Hull was not really a hotbed of revolution and the events there at the start of the war were quite farcical.

His play, jointly produced by the RSC and Hull Truck Theatre, has turned into a crazy, hilarious, chaotic farce, which produced rapturous applause from the Stratford audience.

England was on the brink of civil war in 1642 when Hull's Governor, Sir John Hotham, refused Charles I admission to the city, which housed the country's second largest arsenal.

This was a revolutionary act and meant the Royalists were poorly equipped for the first battle at Edgehill.

But instead of continuing to back the Parliamentary cause, a year later Hotham changed sides. The play portrays his dilemma in deciding which side was going to win.

Oddly, the production, expertly directed by Phillip Breen, starts with Hotham's execution by order of Parliament.

The comedy cleverly begins with Hotham's head addressing the audience, reflecting on the events leading to his demise.

Mark Addy gives a brilliant performance as Hotham, exchanging near-the-knuckle insults with his fifth wife, Sarah, played by Caroline Quentin, who admirably retains her dignity throughout.

But some of the biggest laughs are won by the camp double act of Jordan Metcalfe (Duke of York) and Rowan Polonski (Prince Rupert).

Danielle Bird as the old servant, Drudge, ramps up the farce as he is constantly shoved into articles of furniture or shut in the coal cellar.

And the disbelieving facial expressions of Neil D'Souza, who plays the puritan Peregrine Pelham, are a joy.

The fast-moving action, comprising sudden entrances and exits, constant banging on the door, riotous fighting, dissidents singing revolutionary songs, and even an evangelist advocating a life of sin, all contribute to a perfect farce.

Pictured above: Jordan Metcalfe (Duke of York) and Rowan Polonski (Prince Rupert).

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