Annie Proulx once wrote a novel, Accordion Crimes, telling of 100 years of the immigrant experience in the United States by means of the stories of the owners of a button accordion. When I asked an accordionist his opinion of it, he said succinctly, “Not enough accordion”. Just before half-time I thought this was going to be a case of “Not enough ring”, but ultimately the ring dominates the narrative at the expense of clarity and realism.
Ring Around the Humber is a promising idea. Four short plays by different writers offer vignettes of Hull life, each connected to a sovereign ring, the stories dating from 1941 to 2013. Harry’s War by Richard Vergette is a predictable, but quite moving, double love story set in the Blitz. In Dear Paul McCartney (1964) Morgan Sproxton has great fun with the tale of a girl dreaming of Paul and also of mixing with the Parisian intelligentsia. Director Nick Lane’s own contribution, The Storm, is an effective piece of Hull Truckery, a coming-of-age drama set in 1987 with clearly defined characters, some smart gags and a political agenda. Sarah Davies’ Lost and Found, set in the near future, is all silly voices, posturing, tap dancing and a crossword puzzle of a story which at least deals with the ring – one ring to confuse the audience.
Up till then we have a fairly enjoyable, undemanding evening, with Nick Lane changing style suitably between plays all of which have something to recommend them. Admittedly the air of economy about the designs spreads to the texts which are more like sketches in their lack of depth: the best of them, Dear Paul McCartney, would go down really well as a revue sketch at maybe 20 minutes, 10 minutes less than its current running time.
The evening lacks conviction, not helped by a very modest attendance at Press Night, but there are pleasures to be taken from the performance, not least the work of the cast of four, all competent throughout and seizing any opportunity to shine. Lisa Howard is impressive in one of the few developed parts, the distraught over-possessive mother in The Storm (a nice line in absent-minded rudeness, too). Amy Thompson is terrific in the pretentious comic monologues of the follower of Paul (McC) and Jean-Paul (Sartre). Robert Beck’s simple dignity in the first play is very moving and Marc Pickering’s cavortings make the final play sporadically watchable.