Tuesday, July 16

Guts! The Musical – Hull Truck Theatre

Hull Truck Theatre’s latest production, GUTS! The Musical, a world premiere, portrays the real-life struggle female fish packers at a local fish factory faced in their battle for equal pay.

The stark stage setting of bare, “tiled” walls, soulless strip lighting and little else is what one imagines a processing frozen food factory to be like.

The year is 1984 and the aforementioned workers are about to make and change history.

Also making a bit of (theatrical) history of their own are the 57 members of the community who answered the call to bring this production to life. Space prevents me from naming them all, but what a fantastic job they each did.

The factory in question, owned by a Mr Frank Fish (Andrew Clark) is based in Hull, with all the fishy business, historically, being conducted in the west of the city.

I was born and bred on the east side, in the days when the west, to me, might as well have been on another planet, as rarely did I cross the River Hull to venture there. My fishy ignorance meant I knew nothing about the workers’ struggles, so this entertaining musical definitely educated me.

“Curtain up” revealed a group of males, each holding a “fish” aloft and singing about their hard lives on Hull’s trawlers.

They dejectedly shuffled off the stage when told in no uncertain terms by the fish packers that this story wasn’t about them.

Next up, a group of women were led on to the stage by the unmistakeable figure of Lily Bilocca, a local treasure who led a campaign to improve the safety aboard North Sea trawlers, after three Hull trawlers were lost in 1968.

I must say, Lesley Cussons did an amazing job perfecting Lily’s persona.

Sadly, this group was also booted off the stage – it wasn’t their story.

Then the real fun started as the fish packers, dressed in white aprons with matching wellies, took to the stage. It definitely was their story.

It’s no secret that the language used by fish factory workers at the time could, at the least, turn the air blue. So, to protect our delicate ears we were told any swear words on the night would, amusingly, be replaced by the name of a fish.

Just five packers – Eileen (Jayne Oliver), Brenda (Sarah Hurst), Denise (Laura Grey), Bridget (Rebecca Hamilton) and Shirley (Gina Garton) – were the (fish) glue that held the production together.

Eileen had worked there for 30-odd years and was ready for retirement, while Brenda felt trapped in a marriage to her jobless husband. Young Denise had dreams of being the next Miss Hull, but the nervous Shirley had no confidence whatsoever. Then there was Bridget, who rarely left the cold store.

This motley bunch, and their fellow workers, aided and abetted by their union rep, Keith (Fred Weeks), managed to change the UK equalities act ensuring workers received equal pay for equal work.

The story was told with gusto by all concerned. In the main, all speaking voices were loud and clear, on just one occasion being drowned out by the music. But that didn’t matter. Stand-out singing voices came from Oliver and Hurst; while Weeks and Clark kept their side of the musical bargain, as did a group of colourfully-dressed 80s’ singers.

Composer Joe Roper’s topical song lyrics were an integral part of proceedings, while dancers Amy Dobbs as young Brenda and Abigail Rhodes as a young trawlerman, added a touch of class.

It was a joyful occasion when the fish-packers’ goal was realised in a very amusing courtroom scene, presided over by Judge Haddock (Brian Hossack).

And at the finale, many in the audience stood to cheer and show their appreciation, applauding even louder when silvery “fish scales” descended from the heavens upon the heads of this truly talented, community, cast.

Running until Saturday, July 6th, 2024; 7.30pm nightly with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, 6th. Tickets cost from £3 to £22. Call (01482) 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk

Reviewer: Jackie Foottit

Reviewed: 2nd July 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.