This article was published in The Press on 23rd August 2018.
Martin Barrass may live in York, where he stars perennially as Dame Berwick Kaler‘s comic stooge in the York Theatre Royal pantomime, but at heart he is a son of Hull and a life-long supporter of Hull Kingston Rovers, the red Robins half of a divided Rugby League city, to boot.
No wonder it is a “dream come true” for this 62-year-old Hullensian to return to the lead role of Hull KR-obsessed Malcolm King in John Godber’s sequel to last autumn’s The Kings Of Hull when Long Live The Kings Of Hull opens at Hull New Theatre on Wednesday,
Barrass once more will play the head of the King clan as all the original cast reunites under Godber’s direction to play a fractious fictional, multi-generational Hull family.
Godber picks up the story as the dysfunctional Kings embark on a mad jaunt to Amsterdam and face a variety of challenges overseas, just like earlier Godber characters did in such plays as April In Paris, On The Piste and this year’s The Scary Bikers.
This time Godber sends Malc and his family abroad on a P&O Ferries’ Dutch Dash for the sparks to fly in a comedy drama that addresses such themes as loneliness and social isolation, anti-social behaviour and the role of the family.
“The first play really resonated with people in Hull, and it was very, very localised, partly because it was written for Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture,” says Martin. “John is from West Yorkshire but he’s made Hull and East Yorkshire his home for more than 30 years, and his research and his knowledge mean the details are spot-on.
“As a Hullensian, it was a dream to come true for me to do that play and now this one. All my childhood memories came flooding back, going to the lido, sneaking in under the wiring for free. To think that one day, as an adult, I’d be able to portray these emotions, these characteristics, I do feel like the chosen one.”
Taking the Kings to Amsterdam has made for a dark-humoured work and a more universal one too with its aforementioned themes. “This time, Malcolm’s brother Karl [played by Peter McMillan], is the narrator, rather than Malcolm, and that’s put a darker twist on some of the narrative,” says Martin.
Martin Barrass and Pippa Fulton start rehearsals for John Godber’s Long Live The Kings Of Hull
“I’m a big fan of the series Benidorm in the way it moves effortlessly into serious issues, and this play does that too with a volatility you’d normally find in an Italian film, where things turn on a sixpence and resentments bubble away underneath.”
Meanwhile, writer-director Godber’s pared-back style of directing is a factor in the play’s impact too. “He’s a very big fan of not putting a spin on things; he favours a dry delivery to get to his core thoughts. That’s almost Chekhovian, dare I say,” Martin suggests. “I remember when we were doing [Godber’s Rugby League play] Up’n’Under, he’d watch us in rehearsal and then say, ‘Now make it off the bone’.”
Defining the relationship between the two faces of theatre – comedy and tragedy – that can be found in Godber’s work, Martin says: “With all good comedy, there is something shimmering in the dialogue with the tragedy never too far away, but so are joy and happiness.
“In the case of Malcolm King, there’s something Alf Garnett-esque about him, and Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby too, because he’s being humiliated and there’s a delicious sense of the carpet being pulled from beneath him, which makes him a figure of fun as his balloon is burst.”
When Godber takes the Kings out of Hull, it is like pulling the pin from a grenade. “It’s that thing of once you’re not on your home territory, people become more expressive and loose-tongued and they think they have licence to tell the truth as they see it, and with families, you can stretch it further and take liberties as there’s love there as well,” says Martin.
Once Long Live The Kings Of Hull ends on September 15, Martin soon must turn his attention to York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, joining Berwick Kaler and co for the dowager dame’s 40th show, The Grand Old Dame Of York, from December 13 to February 2. Kings, dames, what a world he moves in!
John Godber’s Long Love Live The Kings Of Hull runs at Hull New Theatre from September 5 to 15. Tickets for the 7.30pm evening performances and 2.30pm matinees on September 8, 13 and 15 are on sale on 01482 300306 or at hulltheatres.co.uk.