AT last, tonight IS the press night for Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary “headline production”, Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street.
First, a Covid outbreak among the company in rehearsals delayed the opening from February 17 to February 22, when “the complexity and ensemble nature of the show meant it could not be ready any earlier”.
Press night was duly moved from February 23 to March 1, only for a second, wider-spread Covid outbreak in the company to enforce the cancellation of more performances from March 1 to 5.
Third time lucky for the fourth estate, artistic director Mark Babych’s production of Hull playwright Bean’s riotous comedy reopens tonight for its final week.
Commissioned to mark Hull Truck’s 50th birthday, with songs by musician, writer and comedy actor Richard Thomas, of Jerry Springer The Opera notoriety, 71 Coltman Street begins a suite of work in 2022 to mark the pioneering Hull theatre’s past, present and future.
It takes the form of an origin story that embraces the spirit of Hull Truck’s founders and the ideals and ideas that drove them, told with Bean’s trademark humour, grit and passion, familiar from One Man, Two Guvnors and his 2017 Hull City of Culture premiere, The Hypocrite.
In a combination of irreverent comedy, cabaret, farce, and drama, Bean heads back to the 1970s to recount Mike Bradwell’s mission to revolutionise British theatre. Sick of fancy plays by dead blokes, he wants to tell stories about real people, living real lives, and it doesn’t get more real than Hull.
In a freezing cold house on Coltman Street, a motley crew of unemployed actors gather to improvise a play with no name, no plot, no budget, and no bookings. So begins Hull Truck Theatre under Bradwell’s artistic directorship.
Thrilled to open the 50th anniversary season with 71 Coltman Street, director Babych says: “From our radical roots to who we are now, Hull Truck Theatre remains a company inspired by the people and place of Hull and East Yorkshire, working with a diverse range of artists and communities to create work with a unique northern voice that celebrates the stories of our city-centre stage.
“We’re incredibly excited to be working with Richard again after the amazing success of The Hypocrite [co-produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company] in 2017. After such a long association with the company, with an incredible track record of work, including Toast, Under The Whaleback and Up On The Roof,Richard’s commitment to the company and the city is something of which we are very proud.”
In preparation for writing the play, Bean conducted extensive research with original company members and founding artistic director Bradwell. 71 Coltman Street is his creative response to the early days of the company, some parts true, others not, but to appropriate the late great Eric Morecambe’s quote, his play is “playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”!”
“The house at 71 Coltman Street is still rather grand,” says Richard. “It’s a big house, like an old merchant’s house, that was turned into bedsits in the 1960s and became a house for passers-through.
“Basically, the family who owned it in back then still own it, but we’ve changed their names in the play to protect their identity!”
Bean drove down the street but could not access 71 Coltman Street itself. “Mike Bradwell and Alan Williams told me all about it instead. It was where they lived and worked on shows, with a really massive three-panelled window at the front,” he says.
“Running between Anlaby Road and Hessle Road, in west Hull, Coltman Street has a reputation as a bit of a rough street, a transitory place to live. My dad was a policeman in Hull, and if you said, ‘there’s a new theatre company setting up in Coltman Street’, he’d say, ‘oh, Coltman Street’!”
Hull Truck Theatre in 71 Coltman Street, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, until March 12. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.