JACK Lear arrived, unsolicited, on Barrie Rutter’s doorstep and made an immediate impression on the Hull actor and director.

Here was a script by Ben Benison that re-worked Shakespeare’s King Lear within the Yorkshire fishing industry, paying tribute to Hull’s trawling legacy while presenting universal themes such as love, betrayal and family disputes.

"It’s an industry I knew," says Barrie. "I worked on the trawlers as a student, unloading the wet fish in the Sixties’ heyday of the industry in Hull. All my family was in fishing or in the Merchant Navy."

Those quotes come from a decade ago when Barrie, at that time artistic director of the Halifax company Northern Broadsides, decided Benison’s play should receive its premiere on the East Coast and sent the script to Sir Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.

Now, his days with Broadsides behind him, actor-director Barrie is reviving Jack Lear at Hull Truck Theatre, joined in Benison's five-hander by Nicola Sanderson, Sarah Naughton, Olivia Onyehara and Andy Cryer, with the promise of "a new, exciting twist".

Rutter's Lear record now reads two King Lears and two Jack Lears as he revives the title role of the wealthy but tired, soon-to-be-retired trawler captain at the theatre where his Northern Broadsides' production of Richard III formed a prominent part of Hull's year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

In come a cappella folk songs composed by Robin Hood's Bay folk musician Eliza Carthy to complement Mike Waterson's All Hail To The Fishermen; out goes Benison's pejorative reference to "ill-neighboured Hull" from a decade ago or does it? Wait and see!

"I've always felt it should be re-staged on the East Coast again, where it's set [on the banks of the Humber], and so now we're doing it in Hull, where the change of venue and shape of the theatre [thrust, rather than in the round] have their own demands, and the audience have their own demands too.

"We have a new designer, a change of cast, and then there's your own growth over ten years, which means you can now read it more intelligently. On top of that, I've brought in Eliza who did all the music for me when I was at Shakespeare's Globe."

In Benison's modern-day play, trawler man Jack Lear is preparing to retire and hand over his fortune to his daughters, Morgana, Freda and Victoria. The sisters, however, have never seen eye to eye with each other or their tight-fisted father, and so they scheme and scrap over their inheritance, with the situation becoming even more tense as Edmund, a smooth-tongued womanising solicitor, enters their lives. Jack, meanwhile, ends up in a nursing home.

"Playing Shakespeare's Lear certainly comes into play in my approach to Jack Lear," says Barrie, who was directed by Sir Jonathan Miller on the last occasion. "Jonathan helped me, especially for 'the mad scene', where he said, 'what you are doing is a bit coy, when mad people don't act 'surprised'; they're not surprised.

"That was an observation from a doctor [Miller] that I've passed on to other actors: nothing takes you by surprise when you're in that twilight world."

Jack Lear has a contemporary setting but retains swords and the language style of Shakespeare’s play, being written in “pugnaciously poetic” iambic pentameter, while drawing on the knowledge of Benison’s partner, Britta, the daughter of a Danish fisherman. "He brought two worlds together: fishing and Scandinavian folk lore, while utilising the structure of King Lear," says Barrie.

"But I've always said, you don't need to know King Lear to enjoy Jack Lear. The emotional world of conflict is there for all to see, and it matters not a jot whether you've seen Shakespeare's play. It really is a play that stands up on its own merits, head held high."

Praising the play's unashamed theatricality, Barrie says: "It’s a glorious piece, with rock’n’roll dialogue that’s a pleasure to say.

"Luckily, when I posited the possibility of doing it in Hull, [artistic director] Mark Babych was full of it and delighted to put it on."

Now a freelance, Barrie, 72, feels extra pressure staging the revival in his home city. "The fear of failure is bigger," he reasons. "You just have to hope that people will respond to it, otherwise you have to crawl away from your home town with your tail between your legs," he says. "But there's no reason for that to happen."

Jack Lear runs at Hull Truck Theatre until February 2. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson