REVIEW: Teechers Leavers ’22, Hull Truck Theatre and John Godber Company, at Hull Truck Theatre, term ends on June 11 *****

Teenage rampage: Martha Godber’s Hobby, left, Levi Payne’s Salty and Purvi Parmar’s Gail in Teechers Leavers ’22 at Hull Truck Theatre

ON learning that Gavin Wilkinson was to receive a Boris Johnson-garlanded knighthood, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson commented: “He left children to go hungry, created two years of complete chaos over exams and failed to get laptops out to kids struggling to learn during lockdowns.”

If reading her end-of-term report on Wilkinson’s “astonishing and disgraceful record” brings out feelings of anger all over again, then multiply that fury in John Godber’s 35th anniversary re-write of Teechers, his despairing 1987 tragi-comedy on the rotten state of state education.

To mark the 50th anniversary of his former Hull Truck stamping ground, he has revisited Teechers in the stultifying shadow of Covid, the encouragement of science and technology over the arts on the school curriculum and the never-ending systemic inequalities that divide swish private education establishments from state schools with leaking, outdated buildings.

Central character Salty, one of those pupils with no laptop, is doing his homework on his mobile phone: perhaps the most damning image in Teechers Leavers ’22.

Godber, the miner’s son from Upton, West Yorkshire, educated at Bretton Hall College and Leeds University, is a former teacher with not only Teechers to his name, but also Chalkface, the 1991 TV drama series charting the day-to-day events at a comprehensive school.

“How come people get education so wrong?” he said in an interview in 2008 when launching an earlier revival of his classroom comedy that dismissed the Labour Government’s latest proposed tinkering as nothing more than “rearranging the chairs on the Titanic”.

Lessons learned? Not since 1987, it would seem, as John Godber revisits Teechers to deliver an even more damning report

Labour Government, note. His righteous anger goes beyond party lines, even if, 14 years later, his frustration with England’s education system has reached boiling point under Tory rule. Exacerbated by the pandemic, state education equals: exam chaos, tech poverty, isolation, absenteeism, lost school hours, remote learning, the arts downgraded, children let down, he says.

Plus ca change, you might say. Teechers was rooted in Godber’s response to them-and-us education in the Thatcher years, but it does not feel a period piece at all, partly through grievances aplenty from 1987 still applying in  2022, and partly because of Godber’s extensive update.

His trademark fast-and-furious physical theatre style; his Brechtian love of breaking down theatre’s fourth wall; his deployment of a high-energy cast of only three to play multiple roles; his relish for social comment and his penchant for bloody-minded, bloody-nosed, raucous humour are all very much alive and kicking in Teechers Leavers ’22.  So too is preference for pathos over sentimentality.

Hull Truck artistic Mark Babych matches him stride for stride in his up-and-at’em direction, and 35 years since Godber himself played drama teacher Geoff Nixon, now his daughter Martha Godber is doing so, the role newly turned female.

Covid masks, Ofsted reports and a Partygate joke feature now, but funding shortages, baffling timetables, boring teachers and bored teenagers remain, as Martha Godber’s Hobby, Purvi Parmar’s Gail and Levi Payne’s Salty narrate the tale of their stultifying life at struggling comprehensive Whitewall College.

Set designer Caitlin Mawhinney splashes the set with bold colours, as a counter to the greyness that pervades the school, but if, in the words of Madness’s schoolroom anthem Baggy Trousers, there needs to be someone “trying different ways to make a difference to the days,” step forward new probationary teacher, Miss Nixon.

School uniformity? Not if Levi Payne’s Salty, Martha Godber’s Hobby and Purvi Parmar’s Gail have their way in Teechers Leavers ’22

Having seen off three previous drama teachers, scathing Salty and co are initially dismissive of the newcomer, but even if theatre has been relegated to an after-school option, Miss Nixon is not to be beaten.

The role previously had been played in more serious mode; Martha Godber makes her no-nonsense, but also more of a grouchy outsider, a lone voice, determined to help the three disillusioned teenage protagonists blossom.

Nixon remains John Godber’s voice too, calling for change, for better recognition of the importance of the arts in shaping young lives, but the ending becomes a more damning statement than ever with its abandonment of all hope.

Or maybe not. In his interview, Godber said if he were a young man today, he would still go into teaching, a profession that needs more Miss Nixons, more John Godbers.

Mark Babych and his cast, switching from role to role, sometimes even taking over each other’s roles, never letting the pace drop, dipping into rap, equally adept at troubled teenager and exasperated, exhausted teacher alike, make Godber’s school report all the more powerful. Oh, and amid the rage, it is seriously funny too.

Box office: 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk.

‘A theatre critic knows the way but not how to drive’. Ouch! Here comes the podcast verdict on Richard Bean’s riotous new play

Joanna Holden’s caustic landlady, Mrs Snowball, and Adrian Hood as her franker than frank son, Our Seth, in Hull Truck Theatre’s premiere of Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street

TWO Big Egos In A Small Car podcasters Graham Chalmers & Charles Hutchinson discuss Richard Bean’s Hull of a good new play, 71 Coltman Street.

Under debate too are Russia sanctions, Tchaikovsky and the arts; Barenaked Ladies’ non-PC moniker and Benny Hill; Harry Sword’s drone music book, Monolithic Undertow, plus Harrogate’s strangely Hollywood street names.

Episode 82 awaits you at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10259934

Review: Hull Truck Theatre in Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street ****

Joanna Holden’s Mrs Snowball and Adrian Hood’s Our Seth

71 Coltman Street, Hull Truck Theatre, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

HULL Truck was not formed in a van – that came a little later – but a squat in Coltman Street in 1971, founded by actor-musician Mike Bradwell when unable to find work.

“I wanted to be nuisance,” said Bradwell, a firebrand iconoclast who sought to make theatre about, by and for real people. Even the left-leaning, arts-championing Guardian met his scorn.

To kick start Hull Truck’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2022, artistic director Mark Babych asked Hull playwright and film writer Richard Bean to tell the story of those Coltman Street revolutionary beginnings.

The result is a “riotous new comedy” from the ever-irreverent Bean, a former stand-up and psychologist with a love of people showing two fingers to – or at least challenging – authority and the status quo, be it Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors or Kempton Bunton in the newly released film The Duke.

Bean did extensive research for 71 Coltman Street, interviewing Bradwell and fellow hippy-haired revolutionaries, and what appears on stage is a fusion of the truth and the not-so-true but you wish it were, matched by the songs of Richard Thomas (of Jerry Springer: The Opera notoriety).

Sara Perks’s set design is an open-plan lay-out of the freezing-cold 71 Coltman Street, where Bradwell (Kieran Knowles) and his fellow unemployed actors burn furniture to keep warm. Guitars, drums and a piano, sofas, cushions and theatre posters fill the room, where they improvise a play with no name, no plot, no budget and no bookings. Their phone is the nearest Hull white phone box.  

There are two forms of funding theatre, says Bradwell: Arts Council support or, in their case, social security, and Hull is the perfect place to be “looking for work” and setting up a theatre company because there are no jobs. Whereas, don’t sign on in Stratford-upon-Avon, he advises.

Played by Babych’s actor-musicians, in the pioneering company are Linda (Lauryn Redding), Bradwell’s girlfriend; up-for-anything Manchester lad Stew (Laurie Jamieson) and knows-everything-but-rather-charming, public school-educated Julian (Jordan Metcalfe). Enter Bea (Hanna Khogali), newly up from Oxford.

Bradwell encourages, nay, demands, that they take on the guise of potential characters for plays, when on the streets, for research purposes, be it Stew’s comedic Italian Dave, Julian’s vicar, Bea’s thief with a troubled past or Linda’s former hippie.

As if 71 Coltman Street were not already ripe with characters, Bean serves up two caricatures of chaotic comic delight: no-nonsense, leather-tongued landlady Mrs Snowball (Joanne Holden), who holds no truck with theatre luvvieness, and her equally blunt, not-all-there son, Our Seth (Adrian Hood), first encountered bringing a huge dead dog into the flat. Can two people scene-steal the same scenes? Oh, yes they can.

Another Hull Truck favourite, Matthew Booth, is more low key in his cameos, but you will particularly enjoy his Hell’s Angel, Daz, delivering frozen fish and a nonsensical story.

Bean’s celebrates the character of Hull itself, just as it drew Philip Larkin and John Godber to the coastal city, and he captures the world of making performances brilliantly too, not least in a scene that draws on Lee Strasberg’s workshop techniques.

71 Coltman Street is long and yet it flies by, constantly on the move, adding more characters, building momentum, passing social comment and showing all sides of Bradwell.

Bean spears all things 1971, from flares to a raucous, coarse Hull Truck cabaret night at the Hull & East Riding Institute for the Blind, audience bingo et al, before a climactic performance of debut play Naked turns into a sideshow for Mrs Snowball and Our Seth.

Thomas’s rough and ready songs add to the comic mayhem, and whatever is thrown at them by Bean, from agit-prop drama to cabaret, satirical comedy to Ortonesque farce, Babych’s cast are terrific, especially Knowles’s grouchy but resolute Bradwell and Metcalfe’s Julian, winding him up so unintentionally.

The Covid curse put paid to last week’s performances, but undaunted, in an echo of Bradwell’s pioneers, the bloody-minded Hull Truck spirit has prevailed.

Richard Bean’s irreverent comedy 71 Coltman Street is back up and running for Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary

Playwright Richard Bean

AT last, tonight IS the press night for Hull Truck Theatre’s 50th anniversary “headline production”, Richard Bean’s 71 Coltman Street.

First, a Covid outbreak among the company in rehearsals delayed the opening from February 17 to February 22, when “the complexity and ensemble nature of the show meant it could not be ready any earlier”.

Press night was duly moved from February 23 to March 1, only for a second, wider-spread Covid outbreak in the company to enforce the cancellation of more performances from March 1 to 5.

Third time lucky for the fourth estate, artistic director Mark Babych’s production of Hull playwright Bean’s riotous comedy reopens tonight for its final week.

Commissioned to mark Hull Truck’s 50th birthday, with songs by musician, writer and comedy actor Richard Thomas, of Jerry Springer The Opera notoriety, 71 Coltman Street begins a suite of work in 2022 to mark the pioneering Hull theatre’s past, present and future.

It takes the form of an origin story that embraces the spirit of Hull Truck’s founders and the ideals and ideas that drove them, told with Bean’s trademark humour, grit and passion, familiar from One Man, Two Guvnors and his 2017 Hull City of Culture premiere, The Hypocrite.

In a combination of irreverent comedy, cabaret, farce, and drama, Bean heads back to the 1970s to recount Mike Bradwell’s mission to revolutionise British theatre. Sick of fancy plays by dead blokes, he wants to tell stories about real people, living real lives, and it doesn’t get more real than Hull.

In a freezing cold house on Coltman Street, a motley crew of unemployed actors gather to improvise a play with no name, no plot, no budget, and no bookings. So begins Hull Truck Theatre under Bradwell’s artistic directorship.

Thrilled to open the 50th anniversary season with 71 Coltman Street, director Babych says: “From our radical roots to who we are now, Hull Truck Theatre remains a company inspired by the people and place of Hull and East Yorkshire, working with a diverse range of artists and communities to create work with a unique northern voice that celebrates the stories of our city-centre stage.

“We’re incredibly excited to be working with Richard again after the amazing success of The Hypocrite [co-produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company] in 2017. After such a long association with the company, with an incredible track record of work, including Toast, Under The Whaleback and Up On The Roof,Richard’s commitment to the company and the city is something of which we are very proud.”

In preparation for writing the play, Bean conducted extensive research with original company members and founding artistic director Bradwell. 71 Coltman Street is his creative response to the early days of the company, some parts true, others not, but to appropriate the late great Eric Morecambe’s quote, his play is “playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”!”

“The house at 71 Coltman Street is still rather grand,” says Richard. “It’s a big house, like an old merchant’s house, that was turned into bedsits in the 1960s and became a house for passers-through.

“Basically, the family who owned it in back then still own it, but we’ve changed their names in the play to protect their identity!”

Bean drove down the street but could not access 71 Coltman Street itself. “Mike Bradwell and Alan Williams told me all about it instead. It was where they lived and worked on shows, with a really massive three-panelled window at the front,” he says.

“Running between Anlaby Road and Hessle Road, in west Hull, Coltman Street has a reputation as a bit of a rough street, a transitory place to live. My dad was a policeman in Hull, and if you said, ‘there’s a new theatre company setting up in Coltman Street’, he’d say, ‘oh, Coltman Street’!”

Hull Truck Theatre in 71 Coltman Street, Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, until March 12. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Dickens tales, dames and Damon drop in. List No. 59, courtesy of The Press, York

What the Dickens? Yes, James Swanton is reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas at York Medical Society

FROM boyish Boris to Dame Edna, Christmas concerts to panto dames, Dickensian ghost stories to solo Damon, Charles Hutchinson has highlights aplenty to recommend.   

Dickensian Christmas in York: James Swanton’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, York Medical Society, on various dates between December 2 and 13, 7pm

AFTER the silent nights of last December, York gothic actor supreme James Swanton is gleefully reviving his Ghost Stories For Christmas performances of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Haunted Man and The Chimes.

“I’ve scheduled extra performances of A Christmas Carol: the perfect cheering antidote, I feel, to the misery we’ve all been through,” says Swanton. “But the two lesser-known stories are also very relevant to our times.”

A reduced capacity is operating for Covid safety, meaning that tickets are at a premium on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Boris: World King, under debate at Theatre@41

Political debate of the week: Boris: World King, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight, 7.30pm

THE year is 1985 and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has plenty going for him, being young, posh and really rather blond. However, his efforts to become President of the Oxford Union debating society have been thwarted.

Never fear. Boris always has a cunning plan up his sleeve. Cue time travel, classical allusions and good clean banter in Boris: World King, Tom Crawshaw’s comedic exploration of a young man’s ambition and humanity explored as a half-hour one-man show. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Richard Kay: Co-directing York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir’s Christmas concerts

Harmony at Christmas: York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir and the Citadel Singers, Christmas Traditions 2021, The Citadel, Gillygate, York, Tuesday to Friday, doors 7pm

AFTER delivering an online Christmas concert via Zoom to an international audience in 2020, York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir return to live concerts for Christmas Traditions 2021.

The Citadel allows room for cabaret seating downstairs and balcony seating that can ensure safe distancing is maintained, while the show retains its format of carols old and new, Christmas songs, festive readings and sketches. Box office: arkevent.co.uk/christmastraditions2021.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s night at the double at York Minster

York gig(s) of the week: Damon Albarn, York Minster, Thursday, 6.30pm and 8.30pm

DAMON Albarn quickly added a second special intimate album-launch show at York Minster after the first was fully booked in a flash.

The Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader now plays two sold-out concerts in one night in his first ever York performances, marking the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Albarn, 53, has been on a “dark journey” making this album in lockdown, exploring themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Martyn Joseph: Lockdown reflections on landmark birthday on new album, showcased in concert at Pocklington Arts Centre concert

Gig of the week outside York: Martyn Joseph, Pocklington Arts Centre, Thursday, 8pm

“THE Welsh Springsteen”, singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph, will be showcasing his 23rd studio album, 1960, a “coming of age” record with a difference, in Pocklington.

Last year, amid the isolation of the pandemic, Penarth-born Joseph turned 60 on July 15, a landmark birthday, a time of self-reflection, that shaped his songs of despair and sadness, gratitude and wonder, and gave the album its title. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Alistair Griffin: Series of Big Christmas Concerts in York

Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 3 (sold out) and December 10, 8pm; Alistair Griffin’s Candlelit Christmas, Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, December 11, 8pm

ON December 3 and 10, a brass band greets revellers, then York singer-songwriter Alistair Griffin’s Big Christmas Concert takes a musical journey from acoustic traditional carols to Wizzard, Slade and The Pogues. “Sing along and sip mulled wine while enjoying the fairytale of old York,” says Griffin’s invitation.

On December 11, he switches from St Michael-le-Belfrey to a candle-lit Holy Trinity Church. “Take a seat, or in this case, a medieval pew and soak in the festive atmosphere,” he says. Cue mulled wine, Christmas tunes, acoustic festive numbers and a Christmas carol singalong. Box office: alistairgriffin.com.

York playwright Mike Kenny: New production of The Railway Children with his award-winning script at Hull Truck

On the right track show of the week outside York: The Railway Children, Hull Truck Theatre, running until January 2

YORK playwright Mike Kenny has revisited his award-winning adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children – first staged so memorably by York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum – for Hull Truck’s Christmas musical.

Directed by artistic director Mark Babych in the manner of his Oliver Twist and Peter Pan shows of Christmases past, original music and dance routines complement Kenny’s storytelling in this warm-hearted, uplifting tale of hope, friendship and family, set in Yorkshire. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk.

Faye Campbell: Brushing up on playing Cinderella in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, opening on Friday

Evolution, not revolution, in pantoland: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, December 3 to January 2

YORK Theatre Royal’s post-Berwick era began last year with the Travelling Pantomime, establishing the partnership of Evolution Pantomimes’ man with the Midas touch, Paul Hendy, as writer and Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster as director.

After the 2020 road show, here comes the full-scale return to the main house for Cinderella, starring CBeebies’ Andy Day (Dandini), last winter’s stars Faye Campbell (Cinderella) and Robin Simpson (Sister), Paul Hawkyard (the other Sister), ventriloquist comedian Max Fulham (Buttons), Benjamin Lafayette (Prince Charming) and Sarah Leatherbarrow (Fairy Godmother). Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Unmasked: Barry Humphries tells all at the Grand Opera House, York next April

Hottest ticket launch of the week: Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask, Grand Opera House, York, April 13 2022

AUSTRALIAN actor, comedian, satirist, artist, author and national treasure Barry Humphries will play only one Yorkshire show on his 2022 tour, here in York.

Set to turn 88 on February 17, he will take a revelatory trip through his colourful life and theatrical career in an intimate, confessional evening, seasoned with highly personal, sometimes startling and occasionally outrageous stories of alter egos Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Hurry, hurry, for tickets on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/york.

REVIEW: John Godber’s seaside last resort comedy, Sunny Side Up! ****

John Godber as taciturn B&B owner Barney in Godber’s coastal comedy Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Martha Godber

John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tonight, 7.30pm; Hull Truck Theatre, November 1 to 6; 7.30pm; 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: Scarborough, 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com; Hull, 01482 323638 or hulltruck.co.uk

WHEN the Godber family presented last October’s premiere of Sunny Side Up! in their isolated North Sea bubble at Scarborough, the first sighting of the SJT audience in face masks prompted John Godber to say he thought he was in an operating theatre, not a theatre.

Unlike at many theatres, socially distanced seating prevails at the SJT, where wearing a mask is still the expectation, rather than the exception.

The Godbers, writer-director-actor John, wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha Godber, remains the cast; her elder sister, Elizabeth, now studying at Hull University for a PhD in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, still finds time to be the company stage manager. Both sisters took the production pictures too.

What has changed? Sunny Side Up! is even better than it was a year ago – and longer too, with an interval inserted, more political grit, more comic interplay to go with the self-analysis and class wars, but still fast moving.

Godber has always been at his best when he is riled, questioning the status quo with Yorkshire frankness, shaking his head but finding humour as he observes British characteristics with befuddlement but a dart’s player’s accuracy, driven by a desire both for mischief making and for change.

Above all, an even stronger sense emerges of Godber commenting, not on the deathly march of Covid, nor the Government’s handling of the pandemic, but on its impact on our behaviour, our appreciation of people and nature around us, our re-evaluation of our neglected, suffering towns and forgotten, left-behind villages amid the expedient rise of the staycation.

Sunny Side Up! is billed as a “hilarious and moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it: down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Tina and daughter Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy” in Godber’s familiar conversational, pull-up-a-chair story-telling style.

Martha Godber’s affronted holiday-maker confronts John Godber’s retired academic in Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Elizabeth Godber

The focus, however, falls more on one of those “snooty relatives”, the fish-out-of-water Graham, Tina’s brother, who has taken up her invitation to bring his wife for a short break back at his roots, now that a foreign trip has been ruled out.

It is not so much that Graham was a big fish in a small pool, so much as that his academic prowess led him to other pools, culminating in his becoming a professor and university pro-vice chancellor, who wanted his own success to be a template for other working-class children to follow suit on a social-mobility conveyor belt. He has not been “back home” to this East Coast last resort for ages.

Graham (John Godber) has the big black car with tinted windows, the expensive shoes and the expensive food tastes; his wife (Thornton) has an MBE for her work in the public cause. She is invariably happy, wanting to stop for a sandwich break on a lay-by after only four miles; Graham is perennially unhappy; he would not be going at all, if it came down to choice rather than a sense of family duty.

Brexiteer Barney, who largely takes a back seat, out on errands, is no fan of Graham, while daughter Cath (Martha’s main role) has the bloody-minded, mischievous streak that Godber himself loves.

Consequently, she, more so than Tina and Barney, breaks down theatre’s fourth wall to engage directly with the audience, putting them on her side as she makes sure Graham’s visit is anything but easy over and comments on his wife always calling her “Catherine”, a name she has grown to dislike for its unnecessary floweriness.

There are echoes of September In The Rain and Happy Jack as Graham revisits his past, going fishing in one beautiful, tender scene, but there is no whiff of nostalgia here. Initially, he had laughed scornfully at the cramped, antiquated top-floor bedroom Tina had provided, but the more he sees, the more it sets off his frustration at such places being forgotten, under-funded, under-appreciated, in need of watering.

Yet he himself had left Sunny Side, forgotten it, and so Godber does not let that pathos go unchallenged, nor Graham’s despair at a pair of holidaying old miners spouting Yorkshire cliches (in a cameo by John and Jane not far removed from the old Four Yorkshiremen sketch from The At Last The 1948 Show and Monty Python).

Jane Thornton’s Tina and Martha Godber’s Cath in Sunny Side Up! Picture: Elizabeth Godber

In the defining scene, Martha Godber’s second principal character, a blunt, no-nonsense holiday-maker no longer able to afford Zante, confronts Graham as to why he did not come home to try to make a difference – to do his own version of levelling up – rather than preach from his academic high tower, out of touch and out of reach.

Godber and Graham are both over 65; both have aching knees, both are bright working-class lads with teaching in their locker; both always vote Labour; both want better for what is already there or once was there until the oxygen was switched off.

Graham has retired, Godber is anything but retired, and Sunny Side Up! is up there with his radical environmental satire Crown Prince and his post-mining drama Shafted! as the best of his 21st century writing. Godber at his most humane and touching but b****y funny too.

There is even magic realism in an encounter between Graham and his late mother (Martha again), her memory eroded by dementia, and moments of physical comedy in the Bouncers tradition as Graham, his wife and Cath climb the endless stairs without a stairwell in sight.

Four chairs and a suitcase, a miniature lighthouse, some rocks and a plastic seagull make up Graham Kirk’s set with familiar Godber economy. In that open space, with room to breathe in that sea air, the performances are terrific. Godber doing a Godber play, with innate comic timing, is always a joy; likewise, his stage partnership with wife Jane makes for a wonderfully forthright double act but one grounded in truthfulness as much as playfulness.

Martha, meanwhile, continues a run of stand-out performances this year in Godber’s Moby Dick at Stage@The Dock, Hull; as Olivia in Luke Adamson’s Twelfth Night at Selby RUFC and now her multi-roles in Sunny Side Up!, full of humour but poignant too. Never better than when the grounded Cath, unlike Graham in younger days, says she will not move on but will look to make Sunny Side a better B&B.

Godber is on such good form here, he even weaves his and Jane’s conversion to “sort-of veganism” into the play with a running in-joke where Cath offers up eggs sunny side up as the vegan breakfast option. Think about it!

Review by Charles Hutchinson

John Godber and Jane Thornton: “A wonderfully forthright double act but grounded in truthfulness as much as playfulness”. Picture: Martha Godber

REVIEW: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull

Kissing by the dock: Laura Elsworthy’s Juliet and Jordan Metcalfe’s Romeo in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Stage@The Dock, Hull

Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, until August 7. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

CHATTING with an actor the other day, the question arose: how did you decide to play your Romeo?

“I’ve seen so many bad productions of Romeo & Juliet where I can’t wait for them to die, because they’re not very likeable!” he said. “I still truly believe that!

“I knew the approach I had to take was, I didn’t need the audience to fall in love with me, I just needed Juliet to fall in love with me. As soon as you worry about what the audience thinks of you, then Romeo is guaranteed to be unlikeable.”

Interesting, then, that Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet really do love each other. So much so, Hull-born duo Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy are real-life husband and wife, marrying in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite in Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

Thankfully, they have survived rather longer than Shakespeare’s tragic star-cross’d young lovers to tell the tale. Thankfully too, this is not an R&J where you “can’t wait for them to die, because they’re not very likeable”.

Strangely, however, the coupling does not have the same chemistry on stage as off. Chemistry should lead to biology, but Metcalfe’s wet-behind-the-ears Romeo comes over more as the fifth member of a boy band, one for the shadows, not a natural lead. Crucially, kissing by the dock, the sparks do not fly with Elsworthy’s Juliet and nor do the sudden flare-ups of fury that lead to murder carry conviction.

Elsworthy is better by far: more assured in her restless performance, spoilt, temperamental, teenage to the max, not averse to blunt northern humour, and she makes Shakespeare’s language catch fire with her Hull vowels. Pre-notoriety Amy Winehouse to his Summer Holiday Cliff Richard, at a stretch.

Sitting on the dock: The audience watching Mark Babych’s cast members in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet

Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych’s two hours’ traffic on the R&J stage is not unlikeable but nor is it is loveable, either.

In the rudimentary amphitheatre of Hull’s converted former dry dock, he sets up a traverse stage to emphasise the antipathy between the warring Capulets and Montagues, with a tent at either end for props and instruments.

Those costume designs, by Sian Thomas, are a star turn on the otherwise bare wooden stage: a catwalk for 1950s’ Italian and American college fashion that inevitably echo West Side Story, Bernstein and Sondheim’s American spin on R&J.

One American voice pops over the Atlantic in the dapper form of Reno-born, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama-trained Richard McIver’s hat-tilting Mercutio, every inch the scene stealer he should be. (Back in 1977, in an English Literature class, your reviewer was told Shakespeare killed off Mercutio prematurely because he was pinching the play from an under-par Romeo!).

McIver’s Guys And Dolls panache is typical of the knowing, bite-your-thumb irreverence that permeates Babych’s interpretation, where all manner of accents and acting styles prevail.

Multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Goode’s Prince Escalus and Friar John could have popped out of a Kneehigh Theatre show; Laurie Jamieson’s double bill of fiery Tybalt and fixer Friar Lawrence would suit a Shane Meadows film or Shameless; EM Williams’s bleached Benvolio is part Puck, part punk.

Lady and Lord Capulet fuse into Carolyn Backhouse’s Capulet, a Cruella de Vil figure, while Amanda Gordon’s Nurse is suitably irritating, irrational, contradictory yet kind all at once.

Babych has fun with a colourful, impassioned Romeo And Juliet, rather than finding the aching poetry and doomed love at this time of a plague on all our houses. Playing broader strokes is a gamble, one that leads to less rather than “more woe”, but the get-up-and-go suits the setting, distracting from regrets over not bringing cushions to soften the seating.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: John Godber Company in Moby Dick, Stage @TheDock, Hull, until Saturday

 Caitlin Townend and Martha Godber in rehearsal for Moby Dick at the former Hull dry dock. Picture: Antony Robling

Moby Dick, John Godber Company, Stage @TheDock, Hull, until Saturday, 7pm and 4pm Saturday matinee. Box office: Eventbrite via thejohngodbercompany.co.uk

HULL was once among the world’s busiest whaling ports. At its peak, 68 whaling ships were registered to the East Riding dock and whale-processing oil and blubber factories spread over the Greenland yards on the River Hull.

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Hull had as many theatres as any city, and sometimes the stench from the factories’ pots of boiling blubber was so malodorous, theatres had to cancel performances as the pong was so overpowering.

The processing plants and ships have gone, the docks and Fruit Market have undergone a new industrial revolution, now housing solicitors’ offices, digital spaces, bars and restaurants and a gallery, under a vision realised by the Wykeland Group, triggered in part by Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

In the shadow of The Deep visitor attraction, Stage@TheDock took over the shell of the central Hull dry dock at that time, and now John Godber, who has done so much to keep theatre open, alive and kicking in Hull, brings whaling, theatre and the amphitheatre together with support from Wykeland and an Arts Council England grant from the Culture Recovery Fund.

John Godber and The Whalers: The co-writer and director in rehearsal at Hull dry dock for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

The John Godber Company’s Moby Dick is billed as a “new radical adaptation” of Herman Melville’s epic 1851 American novel. More precisely, it is a radical reworking of Godber and co-writer Nick Lane’s original, no less radical script for Hull Truck Theatre in 2002, a revision/reinvention that Godber describes as “filleted, better and topical”.

The first version was told by four old soaks in a bar on its own last orders; this time, an East Yorkshire professional cast plays eight modern-day characters, each with a relationship with this part of Hull through their parents or grandparents, whose stories they recount as the play dips in and out of the novel’s Godber-gutted story, like a ship’s passage through waves.

2002’s four-hander – “What were we thinking?! Four! It was almost impossible,” recalls Godber – was different in other ways: staged indoors at the old, compact, 150-seat Hull Truck. 2021’s John Godber and The Whalers’ show fits Step 3 times: a 70-minute performance with no interval, staged outdoors to a socially distanced audience, spread out over seating reduced in capacity from 350 to just shy of 90.

Covid-safety measures prevail too: staff in masks, tick; hand sanitiser, tick; surface cleaning, tick; cast Covid-testing regularly and staying together in a B&B social bubble, tick.

MayTether’s Lily in the John Godber Company’s Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

Within the cavernous dock’s stone walling is the wooden-floored stage that here becomes the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, in his catastrophic, deranged, self-destructive battle with the monstrous white whale, Moby Dick.

Props are wooden too in the form of myriad pallets for constant rearrangement into different shapes to evoke, for example, the bow and to create a percussive sound when thrown down or knocked over. A rudimentary ship’s wheel is ever present and loose pieces of wood serve as harpoons. The bike ridden by Martha Godber’s impassioned narrator, Lucy, is the one concession to modernity.

Given the 7pm start, no lighting or special effect is needed for a back-to-basics yet epic production that, in Godber tradition, is driven by storytelling, physical theatre and teamwork (or should that be crew work?) as much as by individual performance.

This remains a dry dock in every way, no water to be seen throughout, and yet this Moby Dick still conjures the dangers, the rhythms, the vastness, of the sea through the cast’s movement and sound effects.

Blue-eyed soul searching: Frazer Hammill as Frank/Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

Sea shanties pepper the performance too, not least the newly ubiquitous chart-topper Wellerman, and it will come as no surprise to devotees of York Stage that Goole-born May Tether’s singing stands out.

Frazer Hammill’s Captain Ahab has the air of the blue-eyed cult-leader about him, a law unto himself that no-one dares to stop. Madness, misadventure and death this way lies in a tale as grave as an obsessive Greek tragedy.

Moby Dick finds Godber, who scripted the revised version after discussions with Lane, far removed from the agitated humour of many of his plays.

Instead, in a collective year in the shadow of an elusive enemy, devastating disease, mental anguish, constant uncertainty and ever greater division, there is no bigger fish to fry than a story of timeless human failings in command, set against the context of a modern-day discourse on Hull’s global importance as a port, its whaling past and the rising need for conservation.

Come Hull or high water, you will have a wail, rather than a whale, of a time as the Godber harpoon hits home hard.

The John Godber Company cast on stage at Stage @The Dock, the converted Hull dry dock, with The Deep behind. Picture: Antony Robling

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

Welcome with open arms: Julie Hesmondhalgh making you feel good to be back in a theatre at last

The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, until Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, June 7 to 12

NOTE the dots in that title. Ian Kershaw’s 70-minute one-woman show for his wife, Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh, does not lay claim to be the greatest play in the history of the world full stop.

However, like NASA’s Voyager probes, Kershaw aims for the stars, and as this most human and humane of love stories progresses, you accumulatively feel you are watching a great play with a sense of history and a grasp of what makes the messy world go round.

Kershaw’s focus is on the comings and goings of quiet, suburban Preston Road, and yet life in this northern town is universal too, such are his skills of observation and the beauty of his moving, witty turn of phrase.

Given the surfeit of solo shows to meet pandemic regulations in 2020 and 2021, you might have expected “Greatest Play” to have been purpose-built for now. Not so, Coronation Street and Broadchurch alumna Hesmondhalgh first performed Kershaw’s work in 2017.

Nevertheless, she has described the delayed 2021 tour as putting her back at Ground Zero, opening with a week-long sold-out run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Scarborough, from May 18, with the need to adapt to change, socially distanced circumstances, not least to no longer using audience members’ borrowed shoes to play assorted characters.

Boxed in: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…

That night was the first time she had played to an audience in masks, an experience that John Godber said first felt like he was performing in an operating theatre, rather than a theatre, when premiering Sunny Side Up last autumn at the SJT.

Such is her popularity and versatility, Hesmondhalgh was “double-booked” all her SJT week, appearing simultaneously on screen in BBC1’s whodunit, The Pact. Such is her natural warmth, and ease with performing, whatever the circumstances, that any fear of disconnection between performer and spread-out audience dissolved immediately. Be assured, that will be the same in York from tonight and Hull next week.

Beneath bare light bulbs reminiscent of stars when lit and in front of shelf upon shelf of shoe boxes, stacked high, Hesmondhalgh immediately breaks theatre’s fourth wall to make everyone feel at home back in the theatre, then sets up the story of a man waking in the middle of the night to discover that the world has stopped at 04.40…precisely. He will keep doing so in Kershaw’s account, echoing, albeit distantly, Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day.

Through his bedroom curtains, he sees no signs of life, save for a light in the house opposite where a woman in an over-sized Bowie T-shirt is standing. She is looking back at him, just as bemused, just as unable to sleep, feeling just as isolated…

…So begins the love story of central characters Tom and Sara, and gradually Kershaw fills in the street life, Neighbourhood Watch scheme and characters of Preston Road and opens out his focus, moving between past and present and asking us to ponder who we are, what may be thrown at us, what judgements we may make of those around us.

Detail is all, typified by Hesmondhalgh observing the Latin tattoo on neighbour Mrs Forshaw’s arm that translates as “through hardship to the stars”: in a nutshell, the trajectory of Kershaw’s story.

Julie noted

What takes it to the heights is the way sci-fi enthusiast Kershaw weaves the Voyager probes  into the play, and more particularly the Golden Record taken on each mission with recordings that encapsulate the essence of life on Earth: “People having a good time. People cramming it all in,” as Hesmondhalgh puts it.

This sets both Kershaw and the audience to thinking about what we should include now in such a time-travel experiment, and after Hesmondhalgh has led everyone to both cheers and tears, she will have you smiling, exhilarated, at what makes everything worthwhile, even under the Covid cloud. Cue Here Comes The Sun and smiles all round, behind masks of course!

The solo show is a tough gig, be it for an actor or comedian, but directed by a Raz Shaw touch, Hesmondhalgh is wholly in control, often playful, using stairways as well as the stage, equally adept in a rising tide of emotion or in a moment of calm. She has the timing of a comic, yet the gravitas for tragedy too.

If you are seeking THE play to re-introduce you to the joy of theatre-going after pandemic hibernation, right now this is The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…for doing that. Full stop.

York Theatre Royal performances: evenings at 8pm, plus 3pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office, 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Hull Truck Theatre performances: evenings at 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at boxoffice@hulltruck.co.uk

All tour performances are socially distanced with Covid-safe measures in place.