Review: Sully, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, until May 27
by Charles Hutchinson
SULLY deserves the kind of long run that winger Clive Sullivan MBE made so often in his rugby league pomp with Hull FC, city rivals Hull Kingston Rovers and Great Britain.
Hull journalist Dave Windass is still earning his play-writing wings but this week’s sell-out run of Sully is evidence of his talent for emotional, humorous writing with the common touch (in the Hull Truck house style, yet distinctive too).
The Robins (Rovers) and Airlie Birds (FC) fans sit side by side, just as they did at Sullivan’s memorial service after he died of cancer at 42.
Sorry for blowing the ending, except that the end is the beginning to a play with plenty of twists in the tradition of the flying black Welshman’s running style.
Martin Barrass and Gareth Tudor Price’s triumphant production opens with the traffic at a halt on Clive Sullivan Way after a crash. Taxi driver and FC fan Max (Lee Green) and his fare, East Hull chav and young mum Chelle (Natalie Blades), are cursing each other and their luck when the ghost of Sully (Fidel Nanton) emerges to reclaim his road.
(You may recognise the strip of tarmac from Hull Truck’s previous show, John Godber’s Men Of The World, in the ultimate example of an economy drive.)
Sully says he will help them if they help him to re-enact his life story: his childhood in the only black family in Splott, Cardiff; his calcified legs that should have curtailed his career before it started; his World Cup triumph as GB captain and his Challenge Cup successes.
Windass captures Hull rivalries and local colour with a knockabout wit that rises above the locale, while he reconstructs Sullivan’s highs and lows with a Hollywood sense of melodrama, swelling music and back projections.
Nanton’s performance will move big men to tears of joy and sadness; Blades and Green are winning comic foils. They warrant the granting of three wishes: the speedy return of this wonderfully evocative play; a statue for Hull’s favourite adopted son and, just maybe, a screen drama of Sully’s remarkable story. As he proved, all things are possible… except a remedy for the congestion in Clive Sullivan Way.