John Godber has plenty to celebrate. Not only is Hull Truck, the company he has led for 20 years, eagerly awaiting a brand-new theatre in the heart of Hull, but he has just written and directed a cracker of a play, Going Dutch. He has seen the company through some stormy times, but surely none as tempestuous as this crossing from Hull to Rotterdam as experienced by three mates and an oddball, all off to a Bruce Springsteen concert.
Mark and Sally take us back to Mark's stomach-churning 50th-birthday weekend, which is dominated by a Neil Diamond crooner, gale-force winds, drunken bickering and a steady stream of cringe-making situations out of which any sane person would have driven off fast, or even jumped overboard.
Their friend Gill, a denim-clad rock chick for whom Mark has always had the hots, surprises them with her new lover, Karl, whom she has stowed away to join the on-board fun. His overbearing presence has the effect of peeling off the paper covering the cracks in Mark and Sally's marriage. Godber's observation is so acute that it's hard to believe he's not drawing on his own experiences. Each new disaster and the gradual revelation of the characters' regrets, jealousies and insecurities would make you cry if they weren't so funny.
The play also touches on areas of sensitivity for Mark (and possibly Godber, whose father is also a miner; who also has daughters; and who also must be hitting 50). The ageing process is taking its toll; his once-radical politics and lifestyle are unaccountably veering to the right; his music-writer's inspiration is blocked; his ailing parents haunt him; and his ego is fragile. He feels that his style is cramped, and James Hornsby, struggling to keep his life as well as his feet balanced on the rolling deck, makes a touchingly prickly Mark.
In casting Gemma Craven, a long way from South Pacific and Pennies from Heaven, Godber has found the perfect foil for the uptight Mark, as her respectable veneer of parish-council work gradually crumbles in the aftermath of too many cheap tipples and slices of hash cake. Jackie Lye makes a fine feckless friend, her infectious happiness with her new man as incomprehensible to the audience as it is to her old college friends. Rob Hudson plays the skinhead Karl ("Whatever happened to the comb-over?" Mark mutters grumpily) whose Yorkshire patina is so thick that at times I could scarcely understand him. In his portrayal of the paranoid ex-convict who resembles a terrifying type of burly roadie, Hudson's intimidating presence exudes right out into the stalls.
The show's sponsor, P & O Ferries (whose freight director is called Hull), is giving theatregoers the chance to win a mini-cruise to Amsterdam. After seeing Going Dutch, they may prefer to relax at home on their own sundeck...
To Sat (01482 323638); then touring (www.hulltruck.co.uk)
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