Take a bow Chris Bewers and Luke James of The Yorkshire Workshop for creating the most basic stage setting for a production of Sully, which came to the Hull Truck Theatre, on Tuesday evening.
Basic, but genius. I loved it. Let me explain…
Sully tells the story of Hull’s favourite adopted son, Welshman Clive Sullivan, who played for the city’s two rugby league teams in his amazing career – Hull Kingston Rovers (yay, up the Robins), and Hull FC (whatever).
The red and white strip of Hull KR is supported by those Hullites living east of the river Hull; the “other team” wear black and white and enjoy the loyalty of those living to the west of the river.
I’m east Hull born and bred; my dad (Arthur Lewis) played for Hull KR, so my loyalty has never been in doubt.
Back to the aforementioned “basic” stage setting. I recognised it as soon as I took my seat in row B, as being a stretch of the main road leading into, and out of, Hull – named the Clive Sullivan Way, in tribute to the great sportsman.
I travel on this road seven days a week and it was as if Bewers and James had dug up a section, dropping it into the theatre, complete with a crash barrier. It was so lifelike. No potholes, thankfully.
A cast of three – Levi Payne as Sully, Peter McMillan as Max and Amy Thompson as Chelle – brilliantly recounted Sullivan’s life from his growing up in Splott, near Cardiff, to his invitation to Buckingham Palace where he was honoured with an MBE, to his premature death on October 8, 1985.
Sully, written by local playwright Dave Windass, first premiered at Hull Truck, in 2006 and, as a celebration of what would have been Sullivan’s 80th birthday this year, has been brought back to the theatre.
I had a chance to speak with Windass before the show and he revealed it had been, understandably, necessary to tweak the script slightly, for 2023.
At “curtain up”, Chelle and Max are standing in the middle of Clive Sullivan Way, while the local radio station informs motorists of a car accident which has blocked the road both ways.
Chelle is desperate to get back into east ‘ull to pick up her kids. Max is from the west of the city and mocks her relentlessly, but she gives as good as she gets.
Max picks up a rugby ball among the roadside litter (a discarded chair, milk crates etc) and recognises it as being connected to Sullivan, who then magically appears in his sports gear.
From here it’s all about his life – and what a life. Among a myriad of interesting facts, we learned he was the first black person to captain his country in any sport.
This small, but extremely talented cast – all professional actors – entertained everyone in the well-attended theatre, with McMillan and Thompson playing multiple roles, bringing to life everyone Sullivan reminisced about. French, Welsh and ‘ull accents all got an airing.
Payne is Sully throughout, and that is how it should be.
Windass’s mesmerising script is amusing, informative and poignant, often wringing vocals from the animated audience, who understood every ‘ull nuance. The east-west rivalry was in full swing!
The stage setting, unflashy lighting, music etc remained firmly in the background and costume changes were few; the story was definitely the star.
There are two major twists in Sully, so my lips are sealed. At the show’s end, photos and a video of Sullivan appeared on a huge screen, and as the actors took their bows, the audience rose as one to give them a very well-deserved standing ovation. Up the Robins!
Running until Saturday, June 10th, 2023; 7.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday, 8th and Saturday, 10th. Tickets from £18.50. Call (01482) 323638 or visit www.hulltruck.co.uk
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 6th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: