September In The Rain – November 2013

Experience: 6/10

Written and directed by John Godber

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 22nd November 2013

This is not John Godber’s strongest piece. It’s a two-hander full of reminiscences of earlier days, the 1950s in particular, and times spent together on Blackpool beach by Liz and Jack. They’re an elderly couple, based on Godber’s own grandparents, and they’d spent many of the family holidays in Blackpool over the years. We got to see them back as they were, recalling the events of some memorable Septembers on the West coast, getting soaked in the rain and occasionally having some fun. Personally I thought the fun was in not having to relive the events, given the amount of arguing and fighting that went on. And not just between the two of them; Jack was quick to use his fists in those days.

Continue reading

The Debt Collectors – December 2011

7/10

By John Godber

Directed by John Godber

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 1st December 2011

This is a new piece by John Godber which apparently started life as a TV comedy drama, but when the TV executives couldn’t understand that drama could also have humour in it, John cancelled the telly idea and rewrote it for the stage. I’m glad he did.

The set was a bit confusing at first. Around the back of the stage were a load of theatre flats, some facing towards us so we could see the painted scenery, some facing away. To the back left of the stage, in splendid isolation, was a door, and towards the front on the right were a chair and a packing crate filled with stuff. Further back from that was a desk and chair, while there was another chair front left. An old typewriter in its case sat on the desk, and there were a cello, petrol cans, a bath, a step ladder and other paraphernalia scattered around. Many of these items came into play during the performance.

The story started off with two men, Spud and Loz, wandering around the backstage area of a theatre, a theatre which they’d both performed in several years ago in The Dumb Waiter. With their acting careers foundering, despite Spud’s stint on The Bill some years earlier, they have to find work elsewhere and both end up as debt collectors, working for a Ukrainian woman who buys up lots of debts and needs extra staff to do the collecting. They’re now back at the theatre in this new capacity, looking to collect on a debt of £17,000 for wood, and waiting to meet the owner.

Before long, Loz starts talking to the audience, explaining how he would tell the story of their career change, and thus he becomes our narrator for the evening, taking us right up to the present day with the two of them arriving back at the theatre. Through his choice of scenes, we learn of their first stumbling efforts to rake in the cash – they end up paying £20 a week each to help out one old chap who can’t afford to repay his debts – then about the changes in their personal lives and the gradual toughening up of their attitudes. Given the subject matter, there are a lot of topical references to the current difficult financial situation, and although some of the play is serious and quite moving at times, it’s never heavy, and there are plenty of laughs along the way.

Spud starts the play with a bandaged foot, an accompanying limp, and a plaster on his nose. How he got those injuries leads to some of the best humour of the evening – he shot himself in the foot, literally – and the injuries reappear as we get closer to the present within the play. The two actors cover all the parts between them, and although we never get to see their employer or Spud’s ex-wife, there were several other characters to flesh out the story, including the elderly gent who ends up getting money from them instead of repaying it.

The stuff lying around backstage becomes the various locations. There’s a lovely scene where they’ve entered a house – the door was open – and were looking round for the occupant. Spud goes upstairs by means of climbing part way up the step ladder, and starts looking around up there. He finds the woman who lives there in the bath, dead – a nasty moment. Loz went part way up the stairs/ladder, but decided he didn’t fancy seeing a dead body and left quickly, followed by Spud. I loved the way we were allowed to use our imaginations in this play, and it was commented on in the post-show.

When the two of them were sitting in a car (two chairs) getting ready to do some work in the posh part of town, they spot Spud’ ex-wife in another car with her new bloke, and from the description, it’s clear what’s she’s up to (or should that be down to?). Spud is horrified, and later gets hold of a gun which he uses to threaten the other man, a lawyer. His assumption that the gun isn’t loaded proves to be wrong, unfortunately for him, but very funny for the rest of us.

Once we’re back up-to-date, Loz has a finally wobbly which involved throwing petrol all round the place, and that’s when we find out about his secret suffering. With petrol dripping off him, he gets a phone call from their boss – turns out they were waiting in the wrong place. Loz makes an effort to smarten himself up, only partially successful, and then they head off for the meeting. It was a good ending, and brought the story full circle.

There was a post-show again tonight. I’ve noticed that these are being announced by a member of the cast as they take their final bows, and it seems to be keeping more people back to join in, a good thing. John Godber was present, and we learned a good deal about his working methods, particularly the writer/director dynamic! Rob Hudson and William Ilkley joined us as well, and John told us he’d written the parts specifically with them in mind. I commented on the way John always makes us care about the characters, even if we wouldn’t necessarily want to spend time with them in real life. He felt that was an essential part of the writer’s job; if he didn’t care about them, he wouldn’t be able to write about them. The actors felt this was one of John’s strengths as a writer, and made it easier to recognise the characters as real people. His dialogue was a bugger to learn, though, and with him directing as well, there was no chance of fiddling it.

Apparently we were a very good audience tonight, almost a Hull audience, we were so responsive compared to the matinee folk. Frankly, with a performance so entertaining, it was a real pleasure to be there.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Bouncers – November 2008

10/10

By John Godber

Directed by Keith Hukin

Reform Theatre Company

Mill Studio

Friday 14th November 2008

Excellent play, excellent performances, and only inches from where we were sitting most of the time. This was great fun.

The four actors play three different groups; the bouncers at a Sheffield disco in the eighties, a group of four women celebrating one of their number’s 21st birthday, and four men on the pull. It’s a compilation of all the sorts of things that happen on a Friday night in the pulsating heart of a big city, or something like that.

The bouncers were all in suits, and hardly moved an unnecessary muscle. They were well hard. Their dialogue took a long time coming, but we gradually learn that Lucky Eric, head bouncer, is having difficulty coping with his wife leaving him, especially as she flaunts her stuff down at his disco, trying to get a new man. He’s also having trouble with Judd, another bouncer, who clearly feels he should be top dog. The others are OK with Eric, but the tension still builds through the evening.

The girls were wonderful. No costume changes here, just a few props – handbags and the like – and we’re in a different world. With all the doubling, there were a few jokes based on thinking one actor was playing somebody else, but there was no confusion for the audience. They nailed us women good.

The blokes were also shown in all their unattractiveness. A scene in the gents, with all four pissing in a line, was a real treat, and hilariously funny, running through just about all the urinal jokes you could wish for. With a bit of careful switching, a couple of the lads nearly got off with a couple of the girls, but nothing much came of it, despite the bouncers commenting about the after effects of a Friday night – “Durex lay like dead Smurfs” – great line.

One recurring motif was Lucky Eric’s speeches. These were introduced very dramatically by the other bouncers, as Eric’s first speech, second speech, etc. There was a bit of over-enthusiasm from the audience by the time we got to the fourth (and final) speech, which they handled very well, and it all added to the fun. Eric was joined by the others in a rendition of an Elvis Presley number (I’ve completely forgotten which one), which was lovely. In fact, the whole performance was perfect in every way, and showed what great talent these four chaps have. There was loads of humour, and every scene worked really well. I especially liked the changes from one group of characters to another. A brilliant evening, and a play I’ll be very happy to see again.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me