It’s not unusual for new plays at Hull Truck to begin with the more or less realistic portrayal of a varied and typical group of workers in, or somewhere near, Hull, but the development of this situation is less predictable. On a Shout, written by Dave Windass about the RNLI, is a particularly impressive mix of entertainment, moving celebration of the lifeboat service and powerful stage re-creation of a unique part of East Yorkshire life.
The “fictional drama inspired by real-life events” is set on Spurn Point, the last of England, where the Humber and the North Sea meet, home to the only full-time lifeboat crew in the country. Windass starts with a fairly conventional dramatic contrivance: the arrival of the first female crew member and the reactions of veteran coxswain, reliable deputy, Jack-the-lad mechanic and unworldly intellectual trainee.
From the drama of the final “shout” (call-out) of retiring coxswain George’s career, flashbacks present the triumphs and tragedies of two generations of his family. The tone is anything but solemn, but there is a strong sense of the dedication and tradition of lifeboat crews.
The limited space of Hull Truck Theatre doesn’t lend itself naturally to spectacle, but the design team of Richard Foxton, Graham Kirk (lighting) and Matt Thompson (sound) effectively re-create sea rescues, fog on the Humber and lonely figures silhouetted through the haze. All very bleak. But Gareth Tudor Price’s production is good fun, too, largely because of his imaginative direction of an excellent cast.
As George, Edward Peel exudes solidity and integrity, a dryly humorous narrator as well as a wise, sometimes agonised participant. The other four actors take three roles each, all cast for contrast, not continuity. David Barrass, from a steady start as the solid Number 2, progresses hilariously to the manic keep-fit addict coxswain of the 1970s boat. Initially the resilient new recruit, Laura Doddington excels in the wartime scenes as a delightfully correct, increasingly wilful WREN. Matthew Stathers moves from comic misfit (the graduate who finds academic debate easier than putting on his waterproofs) to the key role of Young George. Richard Standing, gleefully irritating as the self-regarding mechanic, takes in comedy and tragedy (as George’s elder brother) without missing a beat.
Over the evening, On a Shout - always an entertaining, intelligent treatment of a worthy theme - slowly and almost imperceptibly develops surprising force, the final return to the mundane, though entirely appropriate, something of an anti-climax.
- Ron Simpson