1968: shift dresses, indoor smoking, and hairspray are all swinging into popularity. But amidst all the freedom and glamour, the British fishing port of Kingston upon Hull faced a series of dark events. The Hull triple trawler tragedy claimed the lives of 58 husbands, sons and uncles after three trawlers sank. This catastrophe catalysed the campaign for better working conditions within the British fishing industry. The leader of this movement, Lillian Bilocca, now stands before a crowded audience, framed by Hull's grand Guildhall.
Guided through Hull's imposing council building, the tone is initially an uplifting one, as Hull's three day millionaires return home from weeks at sea. To the delight of the otherwise anxious community, Lillian Bilocca (Helen Carter) comments on the grand illusion of it all; the luxurious building, the lavishly dressed councillors and their ultimate dismissal of the cries of the community are an outrage. It is difficult to know where to look; we are close enough to the actors that we can hear the nuances in accent, catch the knowing glances and even smell the hairspray.
The performance gradually gets darker, as we stumble across the grim reality of the trawlers at work and witness the lonely struggles of their families back home. Various seafaring motifs and glorious moments of linguistic creativity are harnessed in Maxine Peake's somber vision; accompanied by the multi-layered technical elements, this creates enchanting depths for the audience to wade through.
The decision to make use of a site specific performance is worn like a glove, as the council chambers and decision making rooms inhabit parts of the story through various unsettling audio and visual landscapes. Technology is a major asset to this production, often orchestrating the ultimately simple direction of the cast.
Whilst the action may be plain, this intelligent group of professional actors and community members master the art of complex performance. The strong and increasingly unstable women of the headscarf revolutionaries offer an unsettling testimony of heartbreak and grit. They are complemented by the older members of the community cast, who provide an integral sense of authenticity in a story that is importantly close to home.
A haunting underscore is provided by Adrian McNally and The Unthanks. Both are an unstoppable force in the theatrical sphere, predominantly thanks to their extensive radio 6 coverage. Their folk roots act as the constant fiery glow in the corner of this hearty production.
Hull Truck's The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca is not only a testament to the determination of the trawlers families, but to the people of Hull.