Hull Truck Theatre can certainly claim to be up-to-date in its choice of material. Amanda Whittington’s play, Ladies' Day, set during Royal Ascot’s temporary exile at York last year, premiered while the meeting was taking place. With its central characters four fish factory workers from Hull, its first production was a real example of “here and now” theatre. However, the current national tour, with the original cast, shows that there is much more to the play than topicality and topography.
Hull Truck has a long tradition of plays about the transformation of a motley group of ordinary people, previously characterised as “losers”: Up’n’Under is an excellent early example. Ladies' Day maintains the best of that tradition, with much credit going to Amanda Whittington’s ability to keep in touch with reality amid the comic exaggerations. Only Martin Barrass, playing some half-dozen parts with great relish, is allowed over the top with any frequency – and he manages a couple of genuinely moving scenes among the ticket touts and John McCririck impersonations.
The plot is disarmingly simple. Pearl, about to stop work (she indignantly rejects the word “retire”) takes three of her work-mates to the races as her leaving do. Pearl’s future consists of looking after her boring husband and taking holidays at Patrington Haven. Linda is desperately timid and obsessed with Tony Christie; Jan’s loneliness is only kept at bay by daughter Claire, about to go to university; despite her apparent self-confidence, Shelley’s hopes of celebrity and wealth are patently hollow. There is enough of a plot-line to hold the interest (and a well-worked final twist), but the main focus is on the day’s revelations about each character, all believable without being too predictable.
Gareth Tudor Price’s briskly unfussy production features high-quality ensemble playing, with four sharply defined characters gradually emerging from the production line monotony of the opening scene. Annie Sawle (Pearl) and Lucy Beaumont (Linda) find surprising depths in the emotional scenes that are never overwhelmed by the general fun and frolics. Sue McCormick (Jan), given the inevitable drunk scene, carries it off with rare panache and precision. Jemma Walker’s Shelley has her finest hour thrusting herself before the television cameras with all the modesty of Joanna Lumley in Absolutely Fabulous.
Designer Richard Foxton provides a neatly flexible set and well-judged costumes, with unobtrusively effective lighting from Graham Kirk. This is an assured production of a play that is as entertaining as the synopsis suggests – and decidedly more thoughtful.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse)