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The Gaul review at Hull Truck Theatre – ‘affecting family drama’

Hester Arden and James Hornsby in The Gaul at Hull Truck Theatre
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Staged in a set which curves like the inside of a ship’s hull, the sea is forever present in The Gaul.

Janet Plater’s drama is the second in the theatre’s Hull Trilogy, launched last year with Richard Vergette’s Dancing Through the Shadows, and intended to reflect the city’s history. Where Vergette’s play explored the Hull Blitz and its impact on two families, so Plater has focused on one of the city’s worst peacetime disasters – the loss of the Gaul off the coast of Norway in 1974 claimed the lives of 36 men and remains a mystery.

While Plater doesn’t offer any theories, she packs the play with information. This gives the writing an unsettling realism while never shifting its focus from the fictional family at its centre.

Hester Arden stands out among the six-strong cast as Kay – restless, bright, and gawky as the schoolgirl who waves goodbye to her dad (James Hornsby) and later becomes a steely and focused woman in the years after his disappearance.

Arden, and Sarah Parks, as the family’s funny, no-nonsense Mam, are the heart of Mark Babych’s production, which is as much about the strength of families, and in particular of women, as of dealing with loss.

Punctuated with ambient music that sounds as desolate as rough seas, Mark Babych’s production has a strangely ghostly feel, despite its warm humour. When Kay thinks of her lost dad, Mathew Clowes’ ingenious projection design creates pools of rippling seawater on the table top in her family’s neat front room.

With her dad and family friend Davy (Marc Graham) acting as walking, talking memories to their loved ones, the play shows how the past and the present are always entwined.

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Visually stunning production of a family drama that is as humorous as it is affecting