‘A theatre critic knows the way but not how to drive’. Ouch! Here comes the podcast verdict on Richard Bean’s riotous new play

Joanna Holden’s caustic landlady, Mrs Snowball, and Adrian Hood as her franker than frank son, Our Seth, in Hull Truck Theatre’s premiere of Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street

TWO Big Egos In A Small Car podcasters Graham Chalmers & Charles Hutchinson discuss Richard Bean’s Hull of a good new play, 71 Coltman Street.

Under debate too are Russia sanctions, Tchaikovsky and the arts; Barenaked Ladies’ non-PC moniker and Benny Hill; Harry Sword’s drone music book, Monolithic Undertow, plus Harrogate’s strangely Hollywood street names.

Episode 82 awaits you at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10259934

Review: Hull Truck Theatre in Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street ****

Joanna Holden’s Mrs Snowball and Adrian Hood’s Our Seth

71 Coltman Street, Hull Truck Theatre, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

HULL Truck was not formed in a van – that came a little later – but a squat in Coltman Street in 1971, founded by actor-musician Mike Bradwell when unable to find work.

“I wanted to be nuisance,” said Bradwell, a firebrand iconoclast who sought to make theatre about, by and for real people. Even the left-leaning, arts-championing Guardian met his scorn.

To kick start Hull Truck’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2022, artistic director Mark Babych asked Hull playwright and film writer Richard Bean to tell the story of those Coltman Street revolutionary beginnings.

The result is a “riotous new comedy” from the ever-irreverent Bean, a former stand-up and psychologist with a love of people showing two fingers to – or at least challenging – authority and the status quo, be it Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors or Kempton Bunton in the newly released film The Duke.

Bean did extensive research for 71 Coltman Street, interviewing Bradwell and fellow hippy-haired revolutionaries, and what appears on stage is a fusion of the truth and the not-so-true but you wish it were, matched by the songs of Richard Thomas (of Jerry Springer: The Opera notoriety).

Sara Perks’s set design is an open-plan lay-out of the freezing-cold 71 Coltman Street, where Bradwell (Kieran Knowles) and his fellow unemployed actors burn furniture to keep warm. Guitars, drums and a piano, sofas, cushions and theatre posters fill the room, where they improvise a play with no name, no plot, no budget and no bookings. Their phone is the nearest Hull white phone box.  

There are two forms of funding theatre, says Bradwell: Arts Council support or, in their case, social security, and Hull is the perfect place to be “looking for work” and setting up a theatre company because there are no jobs. Whereas, don’t sign on in Stratford-upon-Avon, he advises.

Played by Babych’s actor-musicians, in the pioneering company are Linda (Lauryn Redding), Bradwell’s girlfriend; up-for-anything Manchester lad Stew (Laurie Jamieson) and knows-everything-but-rather-charming, public school-educated Julian (Jordan Metcalfe). Enter Bea (Hanna Khogali), newly up from Oxford.

Bradwell encourages, nay, demands, that they take on the guise of potential characters for plays, when on the streets, for research purposes, be it Stew’s comedic Italian Dave, Julian’s vicar, Bea’s thief with a troubled past or Linda’s former hippie.

As if 71 Coltman Street were not already ripe with characters, Bean serves up two caricatures of chaotic comic delight: no-nonsense, leather-tongued landlady Mrs Snowball (Joanne Holden), who holds no truck with theatre luvvieness, and her equally blunt, not-all-there son, Our Seth (Adrian Hood), first encountered bringing a huge dead dog into the flat. Can two people scene-steal the same scenes? Oh, yes they can.

Another Hull Truck favourite, Matthew Booth, is more low key in his cameos, but you will particularly enjoy his Hell’s Angel, Daz, delivering frozen fish and a nonsensical story.

Bean’s celebrates the character of Hull itself, just as it drew Philip Larkin and John Godber to the coastal city, and he captures the world of making performances brilliantly too, not least in a scene that draws on Lee Strasberg’s workshop techniques.

71 Coltman Street is long and yet it flies by, constantly on the move, adding more characters, building momentum, passing social comment and showing all sides of Bradwell.

Bean spears all things 1971, from flares to a raucous, coarse Hull Truck cabaret night at the Hull & East Riding Institute for the Blind, audience bingo et al, before a climactic performance of debut play Naked turns into a sideshow for Mrs Snowball and Our Seth.

Thomas’s rough and ready songs add to the comic mayhem, and whatever is thrown at them by Bean, from agit-prop drama to cabaret, satirical comedy to Ortonesque farce, Babych’s cast are terrific, especially Knowles’s grouchy but resolute Bradwell and Metcalfe’s Julian, winding him up so unintentionally.

The Covid curse put paid to last week’s performances, but undaunted, in an echo of Bradwell’s pioneers, the bloody-minded Hull Truck spirit has prevailed.

Richard Bean’s irreverent comedy 71 Coltman Street is back up and running for Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary

Playwright Richard Bean

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.

REVIEW: Made In Dagenham, re-made in York, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company

Jennie Wogan as Rita O’Grady in Made In Dagenham

REVIEW: Made In Dagenham, The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office:  01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

MADE In Dagenham, re-made in York, is the third production by the Jospeh Rowntree Theatre Company, formed to raise funds for the Haxby Road community theatre.

A good cause, in other words, and the more companies that use this ever-welcoming theatre, the better. The more companies that rise up to tread its boards, the better, too, because York is suffused with musical theatre talent and also with audiences always keen to support such productions.

This week represents the chance to see the York premiere of Made In Dagenham, transferred from screen to stage by composer David Arnold, lyricist Richard Thomas and Richard Bean, the Hull playwright whose comedy dramas revel in confrontations, spats and politics on stage (witness One Man, Two Guvnors and Toast, for example).

Bean re-tells the true 1968 story of the women in the stitching room of Ford’s Dagenham car plant being stitched up by both management and corrupt union, bluntly told their pay is to be dropped to an “unskilled” grade. What follows is a fight for equal pay, standing up against an American corporation, and if the battle is less well known than the Suffragette movement of the 1900s, it is a women’s rights landmark nonetheless.

From the off, once an ensemble number loosens limb and voice alike for Kayleigh Oliver’s cast, the banter amid the graft of the sewing machinists is boisterously established, the humour full of double entendres and sexual bravado, as characters are drawn pleasingly quickly. So too are their interactions with the men at the car plant, and in the case of Rita O’Grady (Jennie Wogan), working wife and mother of two, her home life with husband Eddie (Nick Sephton).

Rita, together with Rosy Rowley’s Connie Riley, become the protagonists of the struggle, but at a cost: for one, her relationship, for the other, her health. Wogan and Rowley are both tremendous in the drama’s grittier scenes and knock the hell out of their big numbers.

Bean writes with more sentimentality than usual, charting the fracturing of Rita and Eddie’s relationship, but it suits the heightened tone of a musical. Sephton handles his ballad lament particularly well.

Jennifer Jones’s Sandra, Izzy Betts’ Clare and, in particular, Helen Singhateh’s lewd Beryl add to the car plant fun and games, as does Chris Gibson’s ghastly American management guy, Tooley. All your worst Stetson-hatted American nightmares in one, and post-Brexit, there’ll soon be more where he came from!

You will enjoy Martyn Hunter’s pipe-smoking caricature of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and director Kayleigh Oliver’s no-nonsense Barbara Castle too. Richard Goodall is good all round as the machinists’ hard-pressed union rep.

Supporting roles and ensemble serve the show well too, and if sometimes the sound balance means lines are hard to hear when the Timothy Selman’s orchestra is playing beneath them, it is a minor problem. Selman’s players, Jessica Douglas and Sam Johnson among them, are on good form throughout.

Lorna Newby’s choreography could be given a little more oomph but with so many on stage at times, space is tight. One routine, where the women move in circles one way, and the men do likewise the other way, outside them, works wonderfully, however.

Made In Dagenham may be a car plant story, but its factory politics resonate loudly nanew in York, the industrial city of chocolate and trains.

Please note, Made In Dagenham features some very strong language and may be unsuitable for children.