Tag Archives: Pip Leckenby

October in Coventry

APRIL IN PARIS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 8th October, 2014

 

I have mentioned before my preference for John Godber’s earlier works: plays like Teechers and Bouncers, which combine theatrical brio with pertinent social commentary – so what brings me to Coventry to this touring revival of his 1992 piece, which is characteristic of his later works: plays invariably preoccupied with lower middle-class couples going through marital strife while indulging in pursuits like city breaks, booze cruises or cable car rides?

Frankly, I’ve come for the cast. The play is a two-hander, featuring Shobna Gulati (Corrie, dinnerladies) and one of the clan McGann (Joe, this time).   From the off, this pair engage me and it’s also pleasing to note that Godber (who also directs) has updated or refreshed the script: it works a lot better than a production I saw years ago. It’s funny – in a sit-com kind of way but there is a political undercurrent, there if you look for it. If you don’t, it’s a very funny study of married life.

Al (McGann) and Bet (Gulati) could bicker for England. Gulati shows a nice line in deadpan Northern camp, supplemented by some hilarious physical comedy (her disco-dancing is a sight to behold!) while McGann is spikey and sarky, embittered by his lot in life.  They form quite a double act.

When Bet wins a magazine competition, the couple travel to Paris, arguing all the way. The sniping can turn quite savage and acerbic but what also begins to emerge is how much these two love each other. Bickering is how they communicate and there are moments when they allow each other to be happy that are rather touching. Nestled within the barbed attacks is a lot of truth. Al’s pride is injured: he can’t afford to treat his wife to foreign holidays and so will not let himself enjoy the freebie trip because he feels he hasn’t ‘earned’ it. Godber nails this working-class attitude perfectly: you only deserve what you have earned – this contrasts nicely with Al’s tightness about spending money on what he regards as fripperies: magazines and scarves.

There is a complexity to the characters and their relationship that enriches the piece beyond its sit-com set-up, a complexity brought to life by an excellent brace of actors. There is also commentary on the state of the nation, with its boarded-up high streets and Godber hints that staying in the European Union is to the nation’s benefit. It’s subtly done; the emphasis is on the central relationship. There is plenty to get me laughing out loud.

Pip Leckenby’s set symbolises the smallness of Al and Bet’s world, opening out when they get to Paris. Travel broadens their outlook and instils them with a greater appreciation for what they have at home.

And now I find myself looking forward to any future refreshed versions of Godber’s stuff. With this production, he has won me round.

april


Promenade Performance

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.

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Disquiet on the front: John Thomson and Claire Sweeney.