The Kings of Hull review at Hull New Theatre – ‘pleasingly gritty humour’
Fifty years of married life, and 50 years of a city. John Godber’s comic drama threads the life of the Malcolm and Becky King through Hull’s recent past; from its triumphs (Hull City’s promotion to the Premier League) to the grimmer moments of the past half-century, such as the devastating floods of 2007.
Set at a family gathering, a restaurant where Malcolm and Becky’s golden wedding is being celebrated, Godber’s script is supple and self-assured.
Commissioned for the UK City of Culture Year celebrations, it is, unsurprisingly, packed with in-jokes and references – to the gulf between the city and its wealthier suburbs, to Hull’s geographic isolation (it’s referred to a few times as an “island”) and to its sporting tribalisms, with the two rugby league teams and its football side.
Presented in Godber’s style of direct address to the audience, the effect is one of being drawn in – as if the audience members are extra guests at the King’s big day.
This storytelling style sees the characters dropping in and out of the past – playing both themselves and others as they reminisce. For those unfamiliar with the city it proves a useful primer, for those familiar – judging by the knowing laughter – it has effectively arrowed-in on its targets.
Backed by live music, Ruby Macintosh leads the band hired for the Kings’ celebration, the original songs also tip a hat to many of the city’s landmarks – including Hull’s long-running alternative nightclub, Spiders.
Featuring a strong, largely East Yorkshire-born cast – Martin Barrass particularly impresses as the thwarted Malcolm, whose dreams of playing for Hull Kingston Rovers were never realised – it achieves a sometimes dreamy rewind through the city’s recent past, tempered by a pleasingly gritty humour.