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Review: The Culture (Hull Truck Theatre)

James Graham's new farce ends what has been a remarkable year for Hull on a high

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hull's City of Culture year started and now ends with work from writers with connections to this intriguing city, a city perhaps shrouded in mis- or pre-conceptions, 'on the edge of things' as Philip Larkin coined it.

This finale is penned by James Graham, a man on red-hot form, who has just had two plays running concurrently in the West End and was a student at the University of Hull.

The Culture was commissioned to see the festivities out and it's a well judged, comical, sometimes silly ode to the place. It actually begins in the vein of an alert satire which evokes BBC's W1A, certainly visually. We first encounter Dennis, a member of the public with high-vis jacket and bike helmet, and Lizzie, monitoring and evaluation coordinator for Hull 2017.

They are in 'Marcomms' (Marketing and Communications Office) where Sophie Philips' design is spot on. It's all modern and sharp, adorned with leaflets and posters alluding to colour schemes and volunteer charters with all the usual buzz words and marketing jargon. It's all a bit of an antithesis to culture you might say, yet the whole year runs on Lizzie's watch. Her portfolios and documents about surveys satisfy her, but don't translate to 'ordinary' citizens like Dennis. He mis-remembers the word 'framework' as 'zimmerframe'. They don't talk about employees 'leaving', rather ‘transitioning'. You get the point.

As Lizzie makes final preparations for her important presentation to VIPs Clive and Imelda for the 'transition' to Coventry's year in the limelight, Dennis has found a way in to the building and is complaining about students walking by his house who have apparently taken his dumping ground of a garden to be an art installation. As a set up it's a fascinating introductory passage which nods to the absurd. What does culture really do for a place like Hull? How do we quantify it?

Everything starts to go wrong and through several misunderstandings and complications things soon ramp up and all the usual doors soon start banging, phones ringing.

As the action ensues there are some set pieces which are hilarious, one involving a volunteer Gerald played by Martin Hyder and a blow-up doll induces real belly chuckles. Only one or two threads don't quite translate.

The characters are brilliantly drawn and contrasting, and the doubling of them by the actors is awe-inspiring. Andrew Dunn is a cynical Yorkshireman with a soft touch as Dennis and Amelia Donkor elicits Lizzie with constantly charged, shuffled movements. Perhaps Matt Sutton as Tony the local councillor – eating a pasty with swagger, his flies undone and his tie tied long – is as amusing as any. His moustache came off on opening night and he improvised it so well it should stay in.

It's essentially a cleverly written piece that has subtly tapped in to exploring something a little more thoughtful. Farce must be painstakingly difficult to get right, but you never want to take your eyes away for a minute from this. And it's very Hull. A fine end to what looks to have been a great year for the city.

The Culture runs at Hull Truck Theatre until 17 February.