Review: Three hours of classy farce in full-blooded production of The Hypocrite in Stratford

Caroline Quentin and Neil DSouza as Lady Sarah Hotham and  Peregrine Pelham in The Hypocrite. Picture: Duncan Lomax
Caroline Quentin and Neil DSouza as Lady Sarah Hotham and Peregrine Pelham in The Hypocrite. Picture: Duncan Lomax
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Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Hypocrite, presented by the RSC and Hull Truck Theatre at the Swan Theatre, Stratford

Richard Bean’s full-on farce The Hypocrite plays fast and loose with history.

Its premise is an historical fact. In 1642 Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull, refused Charles I entry to the city and thus denied him access to a vital armoury which might have won him the civil war.

Yet far from becoming a hero to the Parliamentarians, he lost his own head to them a year later, accused of treason.

But here, more or less, history ends. Instead we have Sir John trying desperately to play one side off against the other in order to get hold of a dowry for his daughter and thus secure a profitable marriage.

I laughed long and loud throughout much of this three-hour romp. There’s a cross-dressing Duke of York, a lawyer dressed as a chicken, a dwarfish King, and a randy Ranter who believes in free love for everyone. Caroline Quentin as Lady Sarah Hotham, Sir John’s feisty wife, is like a ship in full sail, cannon blazing. Mark Addy as Sir John runs hither and thither, and there’s some marvellous slapstick at the expense of the inarticulate but very bendy servant Drudge (Danielle Bird).

As is often the case with farce, look behind the stereotypes and there are some slightly dodgy attitudes at work. Sir John is a misogynist, a liar, a self-serving schemer, and indeed a hypocrite of the first water. But Mark Addy’s portrayal is so full of warmth and energy, and the script so full of glorious one-liners delivered with perfect comic timing that one cannot help but be drawn in.

The play is stuffed full of references to Hull, and I imagine a performance there would be like a 7-0 victory at home to the city’s redoubtable football club. Here it’s spectacular fun, and if we overlook the history, and now and then a few misogynistic jokes, we gain a great deal from this marvellous absurd comedy.

* The show runs until Saturday April 29. Call 01789 403493 to book.