Funny Turns is a well chosen welcome to Hull Truck’s splendid new premises on Ferensway. John Godber’s new play is very much within the company’s tradition: people on hard times in Hull find their lives transformed Cinderella-style, but by their own boldness rather than some fairy godmother (though Funny Turns boasts a sort of fairy godmother, but he’s a large, hairy roadie!). The doubling of parts, the strong sense of ensemble and the short blackout scenes carry on the old Spring Street ways. On the other hand, it’s doubtful if the Spring Street stage could have accommodated a speaking chorus of eight (male) and a dance troupe of the same size (female), both from the Truck Youth Theatre – a neat way of celebrating both the spacious new venue and the future of the company.
The play itself is fine: enjoyable, perhaps a little overextended, not especially ambitious, but certainly lively and frequently funny. Its twin subjects, according to Godber, are the recession (which is always there, but rather easily escaped) and rock’n’roll roadies (given an epic treatment, with Jack Brady’s Catfish declaiming hymns to their uniqueness with impressive conviction).
The story begins with Cath and Viv bemoaning their fate: Viv’s lost her man, Cath still has hers, it’s just his job that’s gone missing. Cath and Ray have to cope with the financial demands of their “gifted and talented” granddaughter Roxy (Godber obviously finds the current use of the term in schools as comic as I do) left with them by her feckless mother. Ray damages his back working for local club owner/agent Mike, so naturally Cath turns breadwinner – and soon she and Viv are roadie-ing for a drunken and uncooperative young singer on her first European tour.
Few people are better than Sarah Parks (Cath) at rooting such unlikely events in reality, apart from which she times her one-liners to perfection. Sarah Moyle is an excellent foil as the volatile Viv, the prophet who’s a dead loss at seeing the future, and contributes the best of the brief cameo caricatures as an eccentric dance teacher. Pippa Fulton, a ‘Fame Academy’ winner, is ideal casting as a ‘Fame Academy’ winner, and finds a disarming naivete in between belting out the songs and falling over drunk. The play is less kind to the men, with James Hornsby able to do little with some of his five characters, though Robert Angell is nicely dour and ineffectual as Ray.
I’m not sure how much the Youth Theatre element adds to the play. The chorus of roadies moves furniture and props and announces scenes – very well drilled, but maybe not entirely necessary. The dancers have more fun and 11-year-old Martha Godber proves genuinely gifted and talented as Roxy, but the dance scenes are an added extra, not integral, and the play is less tight as a result.
Stuart Briner’s music is always apposite, occasionally memorable, and designer Pip Leckenby and lighting designer Graham Kirk are as reliable as ever, though Leckenby may have been disappointed to find that, with an extended space and budget, the set demands were so functional, with speakers as furniture!