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Review: Lost & Found, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until September 1
11:14am Monday 16th July 2012 in Theatre
THE Stephen Joseph Theatre, John Godber Company and his new home of the Theatre Royal Wakefield come together for the world premiere of two overlapping but separate 55-minute plays by Godber and his wife, Jane Thornton.
They collaborated over many years as writers and performers in their Hull Truck days – they wrote Shakers together as long ago as 1988 – and have taken up an invitation from SJT artistic director Chris Monks to each pen a two-hander, in essence for the SJT lunchtime summer-season slot, but complemented by evening performances too, sometimes performed together, sometimes separately.
Godber was a master of the story-telling, low-budget, physical-theatre double-act play with Happy Jack, September In The Rain and April In Paris, and your reviewer had long urged him to revive that format. After re-writing the one-man show Beef in 2009, he truly returned to two-handers with last year’s “comedy of menace”, The Debt Collectors, in which anger dominated over coruscating humour.
Now, there is a really good John Godber play in Lost & Found, but it’s not by John but Jane, who has found her authentic voice once more with her best play in years, ironically by mirroring John’s style of bygone plays.
Lost has an unerring sense of character, location, the ageing process, and warts-and-all humanity to go with the familiar comic terrain of marital friction, enhanced by Monks’s nuanced direction (never better than when the cramped space of a hotel room is indicated by staccato sideways steps).
Lost – a reference to lost love – is set at the beginning of modern-day Scarborough’s summer season, where two Court Hotel temporary staff, Bristol University student Tom (Matthew Booth) and hard-living Wakefield fifty-something Chelsea (Jacky Naylor) – later to be the subject of Godber’s play – must fill the hotel entertainment slot when the septuagenarian Palm Court Boys band are delayed.
They decide to tell the story of a retired couple, glass-half-empty Len, made redundant unceremoniously after 40-plus years as an electrician, and glass-half-full Betty.
Betty has finally had enough, the marriage running aground on Scarborough’s beach, just as Gober had warring couples in September In The Rain and April In Paris. Booth and Naylor are superb in these humorous yet sad roles, while Thornton’s social commentary strikes a chord as she dissects Scarborough’s denuded fishing status (watch out for the shared role of the soothsayer Fisherman) and last-resort hotel and sea-front culture. Above all, it’s ruddy funny.
Godber’s play is the more complex and feels like an on-going debate in the head of this educated, artistic miner’s son, who directs the slower-moving piece of the two. At its heart is an intellectual discussion on the 21stcentury role of the English working class and education (a recurrent theme in his work from Bouncers and Teechers onwards).
Student and surfer dude Tom is back in his native north, his holiday job a convenient cover for researching his thesis on the “demonisation” of the class from which he emerged, like Godber, before heading south to be the next manwatching Desmond Morris.
Chelsea is a wild card, boozing, taking drugs, chasing men, while her husband is doing time in Hull jail. After 15 weeks working together, Tom has invited dole-bound Chelsea to join him on his last night’s surfing ride, out of kindness, but she thinks she’s on a promise.
The physical stuff is top-notch Godber, capturing the brazen, big-gob, seen-it-all woman versus the somewhat embarrassed young man, shyly towelling down his wetsuit.
However, Tom’s sudden confession to being drawn to her simplicity of life does not carry conviction, especially from the playwright who demanded more than Micklegate runs for the weekend in Bouncers and better education opportunities for all in Teechers.
Where once Godber had certainty, here he ends up lost in confusion.
Truth be told, Tom has some growing up to do to go with his academic studies; Chelsea will be gone by the morning, like a sandcastle eroded by the tide.
Lost & Found, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until September 1, then touring until November, including Hull Truck Theatre. Scarborough box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com
Also at Ryedale Festival, Kirk Theatre, Pickering, 26 July at 3pm. Box Office: 01751475777 or email email@example.com