This article was published in The Press on 11th September 2018.
John Godber has written a sequel only once before in his long, prolific playwriting career, the self-explanatory Up’n’Under 2 in 1985.
The Kings Of Hull, penned for Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, was so successful last autumn, however, that a year later, Hull New Theatre is playing host to Long Live The Kings Of Hull. Why?
“The council, very simply,” says Godber. “Hull City Council commissioned the first one and shortly after that they said, ‘would you like to do another one?’, and I said, ‘sure, if we can get the same cast together’.
“Famously, sequels can be a disaster, but there was a bloke from Stratford who did sequels and they deemed to work! What’s interesting for me is that the first play was more of a pageant than a play and the sequel has the advantage of the characters soaking for a year.
“Honesty in a play is always a good thing,” says John Godber
“It’s looking at how Hull is changing and stylistically the play feels close to a ‘Godber play’, so if the first one was a pageant piece that looked back at the King family’s past, this one is set over the past week, opening on the night when Carl, the former rogue of the family, is opening a gin bar on Humber Street, the street that has become Hull’s ‘Bohemian Central’.
“There are certain parts of Hull undergoing gentrification,” says Godber. Then again, he could well have been saying “gintrification”.
York Theatre Royal pantomime regular Martin Barrass has returned to the role of Malcolm King, the Hull KR-obsessed head of the fictional fractious King clan, who is no happier with life’s lot than he was in The Kings Of Hull. “His wealthy daughter, hair salon boss Kealey, has paid for her parents to move away from Hull, placing them fairly and squarely in Brough, which is ‘53 miles too near to Leeds’ for Malcolm,” says Godber.
“They don’t like being in such a gentrified place, so they all go on a ‘Dutch dash’ to Amsterdam, but things end up going from bad to worse.”
Cue certain Amsterdam substances taking effect, acrimony agogo and even more skeletons coming out of the cupboard than they did in The Kings Of Hull.
“What’s bizarre is that there are actually even more more Hull references than in the first play, but though it’s certainly specific, it’s also a cross between Men Of The World and Bouncers, and as the gin takes effects, it’s kind of like Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, a play I love.
“They lose not only their minds, but also their self-respect, but the real fun and games start in Brough, as the play is also about loyalty and change. Martin’s character is now 68; Rob Angell’s is 70, and they don’t want to be left behind by this gentrification of Hull, as they remember when there used to be a sense of community,” says Godber.
He has lived in East Yorkshire for 35 years. “There are parts of Hull that have changed; others that haven’t, and there are people that live there who think it’s great but don’t want people to come there, but if they don’t come, you won’t have new industry and investment, so the play is looking at how change is good, but for who?”
Godber believes his sequel is the superior work. “This is a very funny play and a better play because it goes into areas that I didn’t want to tackle in the first play as it was for the City of Culture celebrations. You don’t know where this play is going, which is always a good thing, and it’s honest too – and honesty in a play is always a good thing too.
“When people go abroad, there’s a feeling that ‘we’re going to get away from it all’, but unfortunately when you get away from it all, you take all your baggage with you!”
Long Love Live The Kings Of Hull runs at Hull New Theatre until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01482 300306 or at hulltheatres.co.uk.