Sully, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull
AS material for his first play, Hull journalist Dave Windass has chosen a dead cert.
The story of a beloved Hull legend, told at Hull Truck where audiences are wildly appreciative, Windass could harldy have failed.
Except that he could.
He chose to tell the story of Clive Sullivan, Sully, the black kid from Wales who played rugby league for both Hull FC and Hull KR – and captained Great Britain to the World Cup.
Despite the enormous goodwill to the play, palpable both outside and inside the theatre before the performance begins, had Windass done anything but justice to his memory you feel he would have been hanged. Fortunately for him, he succeeds in doing justice to the man’s story.
A play that has wit, energy and an abundance of heart, Sully tells the remarkable story of Clive Sullivan. Now best known to a generation as the name of the road in and out of Hull, an older generation remember him as one of the city’s sons of whom they are most proud.
Windass puts two characters, Chelle and Max, on the Clive Sullivan Way, stuck in traffic after a serious crash.
A mysterious figure appears from the mist, holds out his hand and says “Clive”.
When Fidel Nanton enters as the eponymous hero of the story, something ripples through the audience. Nanton doesn’t look like Sully. Then he opens his mouth and utters that one word – at which point he wins everyone over in an instant.
Nanton’s enigmatic, gentle yet powerful Sully is brilliant to watch – as are the performances of Lee Green as Max and Natalie Blades as Chelle – plus myriad other characters. Both act with an enthusiasm that seems to characterise Hull Truck actors – they enjoy themselves on the stage as much as the audience in the seats.
The fault with Sully is that Windass is understandably daunted by his subject and afraid to leave anything out.
It gives a feel of a play filled to bursting, rather than a streamlined beast – the play’s ending would have benefited from a good 10 minutes of trimming.
It is also massively parochial and, while outsiders may understand the jokes about the different areas of Hull, they are unlikely to “get” them.
That said, the incredible story of Sully and its themes are universal enough to tug at everyone’s heart strings. This play deserves a revival – maybe not outside Hull – but it would be a shame if this week was the last audiences saw of it.
To May 27.