Tag Archives: John Godber


reviewed at the Norwich Playhouse on 6 February

The debate about education has long deep roots; they probably stretch back to the first lessons which passed on wisdom of various kinds from the experienced to their juniors.

John Godber’s 1987 play within a play Teechers is therefore as relevant to 2017 as at any previous time and, regrettably, likely to be so for the future. Adrian McDougall’s production for Blackeyed Theatre is energetic and admirably suited to school-age members of the audience.

Those of us with academics of various sorts in the family have heard this debate many times, and I have seen several previous productions. This one is loud and suitably brash with the three performers bringing clarity to the teenagers and adults they portray.

Scott Jenkins’ choreography is precision-sharp as three tables and chairs all-but take on a life of their own as scene intercuts with scene. Rosalind Seal obviously relishes the part of Mrs Parry, the head of a school in special measures who has taken care to send her children to a much grander establishment.

Then there’s Nicole Black as a collection of pupils with rampant hormones, and at least one teacher also in need of a mate. Between Seal and Black’s gallery of characterisations one understands why their view of the future is so bleak that they want to blot it out with the present.

A drama teacher fresh out of college Jeff Nixon is the lamb thrown to the wolf-packs of Whitehall High School. Jake Adley shows us how his ideals gradually blunt until he eventually accepts the superior post offered by the well-equipped, properly-funded dedicated-staff prospect offered by nearby St  George’s School.

So, what place have the arts in the average school curriculum when the emphasis is weighted towards “core” subjects and a school’s prosperity rests on its examination results in those subjects? If you’re reading this review of a dramatised debate about education, then I’m probably preaching to the converted.

The question remains, how do we convert the non-believers? School parties tends to be on the side of the arts already. Perhaps whole tranches of heads, administrators, school governors and funders at national, regional and local levels could be bussed in to Teechers – and then examined on the play and its messages…

Four star rating.

Teechers is at the Norwich Playhouse also on 7 February and then on national tour until 29 March including the Stantonbury Theatre, Milton Keynes (19-20 February, the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (26-28 February), the Key Theatre, Peterborough (5 March), the Towngate Theatre, Basildon (8-9 March), the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (12-13 March) and the Broadway Theatre, Letchworth (14 March)



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Up ‘n’ Under

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 1 November

John Godber’s early (1984) play about amateur rugby in his native Yorkshire has been revived by the Gordon Craig Theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax.Ben Roddy’s direction keeps the action moving while giving space to the different characters’ soliloquies, delivered straight out to the audience.

Designer Connor Norris has created an apparently sparse setting – goal posts backing moveable pieces which transform the scene between locker-room, pub, playing field and gym – which also embraces the sides of the auditorium. There are some excellent lighting effects from Dawn Meadowcroft, including shadow-puppet style silhouetted sequences.

Central to the story is Phil Stewart’s Arthur, who tries to galvanise the no-hope Wheatsheaf Arms team into something which has a chance of beating local top-boys Cobblers Arms. In this he is aided by gym instructor Hazel (Gemma Oaten), whose efficiency eventually wins the lads’ respect.

Those lads are Phil (Adam Shorey), Frank (Matt Collyer), Tony (Duncan McInnes) and Steve (Chris Aukett). Aukett also plays Cobblers Arms manager Reg, whose bet with Arthur triggers the whole plot. If Arthur’s dilemma takes entre stage, that is not to belittle the often subtle characterisations of his mis-matched team, or  Oaten’s portrait of womanly assurance.

Four star rating.

Up ‘n’ Under runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 4 November with matinées on 2 and 4 November.

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(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 13 March)

The time and place of the action, as we’re told at the start of John Godber’s Bouncers, is the 1980s (the first professional production was in 1983) and a northern urban town.

One reason why this play has held the stage to become its author’s most popular work is that we could be at any time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries – and in any town centre late at night at the weekend. It passes the test of memorable theatre – it has something to say to everyone in whichever theatre they are sitting.

Godber’s new touring production has its four characters start by monitoring the audience and wearing immaculate evening dress. The stage is a square, dominated by the play’s fluorescent title (though we are actually at a disco-club called Mr Cinders).

That square is defined, by a floor-level ring of lights designed by Graham Kirk. The only props are four metal beer casks and the identical glitter clutch-bags carried by the actors when portraying the quarter of girls planning for and then enduring on a night out.

Robert Hudson dominates the cast as Lucky Eric, whose monologues punctuate the action and remind us that we are something more than mere spectators. Chris Hannon is joker-in-the-pack Ralph, Frazer Hammill plays the bull-in-a-china-shop Judd and Adrian Hood is Les, the quiet stirrer.

The jerky rhythmns of Godber’s verse are emphasised by the beat of the music and some extremely nifty footwork. It is a measure of the strength of the play and the subtle arguments it lays before us that the knowing appreciation of teenagers in the Bury St Edmunds audience at the performance I saw was echoed by their elders.

We’ve all been there, done that – in our imaginations if not in real life. The ability to make an audience think and then to come away from a performance perhaps just a little bit wiser then when taking its seata is a rarity. But some plays and some productions pull it off.

Bouncers runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 14 March. it can also be seen at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester from 26 to 28 March.

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