When the Hull-based musician Paul Frankish died after a short illness, aged 51, earlier this year, the sense of shock at his sudden loss felt among his family and friends was inevitably profound. That loss was felt keenly, too, amongst the arts community to which Paul had dedicated so much of his professional life. Although he made his reputation as a musical director heading up high profile West End shows such as Wicked, in recent years Paul had returned to Hull where he had worked with—among others—East Riding Theatre, Ensemble 52, She Productions, Northern Academy of Performing Arts and, of course, Hull Truck Theatre.
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of City of Culture Year in 2017 was the co-production between the RSC and Hull Truck of Richard Bean’s brand-new farce The Hypocrite. Playing to packed houses and with a large cast comprising many Hull-born actors, the show was an unqualified success both in Hull and Stratford. Paul Frankish had worked on the show as the rehearsal musical director, coaching the cast through the songs written by Grant Olding. It was a fitting tribute, therefore, that the entire company reunited for a ‘script in hand performance’ last Sunday afternoon at Hull Truck Theatre.
Bringing an original cast of twenty actors together complete with the director and the writer is a major undertaking, but when one considers that some of these actors are among the busiest around (Mark Addy, Caroline Quentin, Martin Barrass, Danielle Bird) then this was a real achievement. However, in his introduction to the afternoon, director Philip Breen told the full house that it had taken the company ‘about five seconds’ to decide to return for the special tribute performance such was the love for Paul and the esteem in which he was held.
The Hypocrite tells the story of Sir John Hotham, a Civil War Parliamentarian and Governor of Hull who, in 1642, was charged by Parliament to secure the arsenal at Hull and deny entry to King Charles I. His political double-dealing, plotting and counter-plotting led to his subsequent trial and execution for treason in 1645. In another incarnation, it might make the bones of a period political thriller, but in the hands of Richard Bean the story is retold as a rumbustious farce; energetic, witty, physical, rude and utterly Hull!
It may have been dubbed as ‘script in hand’ but the actors threw themselves (literally, in the case of Danielle Bird as Drudge, the hapless 108-year-old servant) into the performance. Mark Addy might be a big man but his energy and agility in the title role was as joyous as it was committed. In that, he was matched by all the performers who—with hardly any rehearsal—gave us not just a reading but a fresh, raw and compelling rendition. Perhaps it was the occasion, perhaps it was the seemingly chaotic but spontaneous nature of the afternoon and the obvious fun being had by the company, but I enjoyed it even more in this form than two and a half years ago when the production had taken City of Culture by storm.
After the performance, Alice Palmer spoke about Paul’s involvement with She Productions and, in particular, his role as musical director of Different for Girls, their self-penned '60s musical. Alice cited Paul’s extraordinary gift for reassurance and confidence building amongst the performers whilst he, paradoxically for such an accomplished and expert musician, would often be very nervous before a show. Finally, the afternoon was drawn to a close by Paul’s cousin Lucy who spoke on behalf of the family, reminding us of the personal qualities of this gifted, gentle and lovely man.
Although the afternoon was one of laughter and fun, there was an obvious poignancy to it. It was wonderful to see the cast performing the show once again, but I can’t have been alone, as I left Truck, in wishing with all my heart that the reunion had never been necessary. If there are positives to be drawn, they are in the warmth and generosity of all involved, giving their time and talents for free in honour of an extraordinary and much missed friend: Paul Frankish.