City of Light brings to life the bygone days of the annual Hull Fair, said to be the biggest travelling fair in Europe. The atmosphere and excitement are perfectly captured within the theatre as the foyer and bar area are transformed in to a fairground with hawkers and stallholders mixing with the theatregoers. This creates a tremendous buzz that carries into the main house and cranks up even further when the entire cast fill the stage for the opening number.
Sadly the excitement levels dip from there with a rather weak opening. It's 1935 and two young boys, Billy (Lawrence Reynolds) and Bert (Connor Axiotes) visit the fair ground looking for work and Bert soon takes a shine to fair-worker Rose.
The ensuing love story is recounted by an aged Bert, now a grandad (David Pattison) to his granddaughter, Nicole (Laura Broughen). The older Bert is filled with regret, and the way the story is retold works particularly well with different actors effortlessly taking over the different stages of each character’s life. Older Rose (Sam Laverick) is very convincing, as is Older Bert (Dan Sproats), with the stage often overflowing with up to 50 actors attempting to recreate the hustle and bustle of a fairground. The boxing booth scene where young Bert takes on the fairground champion, in an attempt to impress Rose, for the prize of one penny (much against the wishes of Bert’s mother (the excellent Denise Dalton) is a particular highlight.
The plot is a little weak in places but remains pleasant and entertaining. The scale of the production must be taken into consideration as should the fact that all the actors are amateurs, some on stage for the very first time. With that in mind the play must be applauded and perhaps the performances of the younger cast members will improve when first night nerves are out of the way.
The colourful costumes and the dancing girls along with the singing will for many undoubtedly bring back memories of happy days spent at the fairground but for me it was all a bit too end-of-term school prom. The show does have entertainment value and therefore will appeal to the right audience. Top marks for effort to everyone involved and no-one lets the side down.
City of Light runs at the Hull Truck Theatre until 8 September.