SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN
Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 11th September, 2013
Of late, John Godber’s output has been dominated by two-handers about married couples on the rocks and indulging in some kind of activity that serves to foment their troubles and bring about some kind of resolution. They go on booze cruises, trips to Paris, or cycle around Amsterdam, translating their midlife crises elsewhere. This 1983 piece however, while it is a two-hander about a married coupl.e is a variation of Godber’s own genre and is all the more satisfying for it.
Liz and Jack are the married couple, well past midlife, visiting their favourite holiday haunt, Blackpool. They shuffle on, headscarf for her, flat cap for him; she launches into a chirpy, Scouse, dramatic monologue that introduces them, and he offers monosyllabic responses in his gruff Yorkshire manner. They take us back in time to other, earlier holidays. Off come the scarf and the cap and instantly they are their younger selves again. This is where it all becomes more interesting theatrically. Using narrative theatre and very few props, they mime re-enactments, populating their anecdotes with a range of comic characters; it’s an approach that allows the skills of the actors to come to the fore.
Claire Sweeney is in superb form as Liz, chipper, garrulous Liz, quick to get a nark on and escalate tiffs into full-on spats. Sweeney drops in and out of various characters seamlessly – including a bow-legged, male lorry driver. She is matched by John Thomson as Jack, misanthropic, grumpy Jack, who has had a hard life in the mines but harbours a soft heart beneath the surface. The pair recount various events and incidents and the emphasis is very firmly on comedy, but a picture emerges of a life together in all sorts of weather, and the story is ultimately a touching one.
Godber directs his own piece, making the most of his excellent cast, resulting in a very funny performance of a lively script. The humour sparkles and ignites in a way that doesn’t really happen with his later, more middle-class output. Pip Leckenby’s set, deckchairs and lampposts along the promenade with the Tower and town as a backdrop, evokes the place but gives the cast room to manoeuvre and perform some moments of hilarious physical comedy.
There are more highlights than you could fit on the back of a picture postcard: a ride on a rollercoaster, a trip to see The Student Prince, the obligatory climb of the Tower… The play evokes nostalgia for a bygone age of seaside holidays, Blackpool rock, donkey rides, bingo, and fish and chips in the rain, but it also depicts a loving relationship that can weather all storms in an affectionate portrait of shared lives.
It is the most enjoyable Godber I’ve seen in a while, making me nostalgic for his early works.