Does John Godber’s Up N Under Work on the Big Stage?

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When I first saw that Up N Under by the fantastic John Godber was coming to Hull New Theatre, I admit that I was a little bit worried. I was concerned that it would not be able to transfer over from the intimate stage of Hull Truck, across Prospect St, to the large auditorium of Hull New Theatre. I sat last night with trepidation, looking at a solitary rugby ball illuminated mid stage. Yes, Hull is a Rugby League mecca, but to move Up N Under to the bigger stage?
I need not have worried at all. John Godber and his brilliant cast of six came on stage with no microphones and quickly had the audience eating out of their hands.
Godber is definitely the King of Northern Comedy; His witty and fast moving script had us all in stitches. I even found myself once or twice wanting to jump up and cheer as if I were actually at a match.
The story is about a bet. Ex-player Arthur (Jamie Smelt an East Hull lad and Hull Kingston Rovers fan) accepts a bet from another fellow ex-player Reg (Adrian Hood) that he cannot turn any team in the North into one which will beat the champion amateur team: The Cobblers Arms. Reg picks the team from The Wheatsheaf in Kirk Ella – A team so unfit and so bad that they have never won a match. They can’t even get a team together for a game of 7’s. What chance do they have?
We then meet the team which featured some familiar faces from other Godber productions such as Frazer Hammill as Tony, Lamin Touray as young Steve, James Lewis as Frank, and Luke Adamson as Phil.
The team, well three of them have met for training. Ill equipped and most would rather be elsewhere, especially Tony who would rather be out stripping (not wallpaper). Arthur comes in and challenges the lads to train up to beat the best team in the North and somehow wins them over and they agree to meet for training on Hessle Foreshore.
Arthur meets up with gym owner Hazel (Martha Godber) whose dad was once a great, well known player. She agrees to train the team and the hilarity commences. Can this bunch of unfit middle aged blokes be trained in 5 weeks to stand a chance?
The training scenes were hilarious. Being a small company, the scenery was sparse, which ultimately worked to the production’s advantage. With the aid of the audience’s imagination and props on stage, our hapless heroes somehow transformed from a joke to having a chance.
The choreography of training was great. Five unfit blokes weaving between traffic cones almost looked balletic. Use of resistance bands twanging buttocks and sit up/press up develop from cringe worthy to half decent. The audience were in stitches and the cast managed not to tie themselves in knots. The commentary added to the hilarity.
Along came match day and our boys are fitter. To make up numbers, Hazel steps into her dad’s boots and joins in. The slow motion choreography added to the excitement and tension of the important match. Oh did I forget to mention? Arthur has only gone and bet his house that his team will win!
With the aid of cleverly designed rugby kits, the cast’s transformation between the Cobbler’s huge and burly players to Wheatsheaf players was smooth and effective; making it clear who was who.
This match was more exciting than some rugby matches I’ve seen played at Wembley! The tension rose and the audience were gripped and cheered the Wheatsheaf on.
This was a great and gritty night’s entertainment. It transferred perfectly across to the big stage. The audience were thoroughly engaged throughout and no matter which Hull team you support, you will enjoy and appreciate this production.
The performance I saw was a signed performance. The signer, Andrew Higgins was very entertaining. He didn’t detract from the production and if you are learning to sign, you will learn some er…..interesting new signs.
Up N Under is running at Hull New Theatre until the 14th of September so don’t miss out!
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