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

More Things To Do in and around York as mountainous films and gigs galore mount up. List No. 52, courtesy of The Press, York

The Russian is Homecoming: Comedy turn Olga Koch tries to figure out “who the heck she is” at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow

GODBER’S comedy, protest art, Russian and American comedy, an adventurous Scott, a DH Lawrence spoof, one of the Wainwrights, operatic Handel, Turkish songs, mountainous films and Velma’s witches find Charles Hutchinson spoilt for choice.

Yorkshire play of the week: John Godber Company in John Godber’s Sunny Side Up!, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 1.30pm, 7.30pm today; 7.30pm, tomorrow; 2.30pm, 7.30pm Saturday

Coastal comedy: John Godber and Jane Thornton in Sunny Side Up! at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Picture: Martha Godber

THE John Godber Company returns to the SJT with Sunny Side Up!, the coastal comedy premiered by the Godbers in a family bubble in the Round last autumn.

In Godber’s moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina share stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy.

Writer-director Godber plays Barney and Graham alongside his wife, fellow writer Jane Thornton, and daughter, Martha Godber. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Activist-artist Richard Lees’ campaigning prints are on show at York College

Exhibition of the week: Richard Lees, Justice, York College gallery, until October 21, open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

A STALWART activist Hull artist once at the heart of the Rock Against Racism movement is exhibiting four decades of prints in his first York show, with his latest justice campaign project to the fore.

The exhibition title, Justice, is derived from printmaker Richard Lees’s linocuts inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I feel that all art has some element of politics in it, even if it’s to distract you,” he says. Entry is free but booking is essential via yorkcollege.ac.uk.

Barron’s night: Sara Barron will keep her Enemies Closer in York on Saturday

Comedy at the double at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York: Olga Koch, Homecoming, tomorrow (8/10/2021); Sara Barron, Enemies Closer, Saturday, both 8pm

BORN in Russia, educated at an American school in Staines, and now starring over here on Mock The Week and in her own BBC Radio 4 show, Olga Koch is touring her third show.

New passport in hand, tomorrow Olga will try to figure out who the heck she is as an immigrant and certified teen drama queen.

Saturday’s headline act, no-holds-barred Sara Barron, from Chicago, Illinois, is on her first British tour, examining kindness, meanness, ex-boyfriends, current husbands, all four of her remaining friends and two of her 12 enemies in Enemies Closer. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Mike Scott: Back at York Barbican with Memphis keyboard player Brother” Paul Brown, Irish electric fiddler Steve Wickham, drummer Ralph Salmins and bassist Aongus Ralston on Saturday

Return of the week: An Evening With The Waterboys, York Barbican, Saturday, 8pm

FROM the “Big Music” of the mid-1980s, to the Celtic swell of Fisherman’s Blues, to all manner of soul, rock, blues and folk since then, Mike Scott has been ever the adventurer with The Waterboys.

Last year came their 14th studio album, August 2020’s Good Luck, Seeker, and seekers of those songs in a live format should venture to the band’s regular York haunt this weekend. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Turning Lady Chatterley’s Lover upside down: Subversive writer-actor Lawrence Russell in a shocking moment for Lord Chatterley in Happy Idiot’s Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Send-up show of the week: Happy Idiot in Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Helmsley Arts Centre, Saturday, 7.30pm

HAPPY Idiot team up with Worthing Theatres to rip through Lawrence Russell’s subversive, witty and, yes, rude parody of D H Lawrence’s once-banned bodice-ripper.

Russell’s Lord Chatterley will be joined in Ben Simpson’s cast by Christina Baston’s Lady Chatterley, Wesley Griffith’s Mellors and Rebecca McClay’s Mrs Bolton, with Chris Jamieson as the narrator and a score by Savage & Spies, for an evening of high drama, high comedy and highly raised eyebrows. Box office: 01439 772112 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk

Turkish delight in song: Olcay Bahir in her National Centre for Early Music debut on Sunday

World music concert of the week: Olcay Bayir, Dream For Anatolia, National Centre for Early Music, York, Sunday, 6.30pm

TURKISH singer Olcay Bayour makes her NCEM debut with her four-piece band, performing songs from her albums Neva and Rüya (Dream).

Born in the historical city of Gaziantep, she moved to Britain as a teenager and trained in opera. Now she showcases ancient poems and original songs in Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian, reflecting her Anatolian heritage, wrapped in music of deep roots yet applied with contemporary, sophisticated arrangements, suffused with irresistible rhythms. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

On fire: English Touring Opera in Handel’s Amadigi at York Theatre Royal

Two nights at the opera: English Touring Opera in Handel’s Amadigi, York Theatre Royal, Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm

ENGLISH Touring Opera returns with James Conway’s new production of Handel’s “magic opera” Amadigi on a tour where William Towers and Tim Morgan share the title role.

Francesca Chiejina and Jenny Stafford play sorceress Melissa, whose infatuation with Amadigi drives her to imprison his love Oriana (Harriet Eyley) and torment him and his companion turned rival, Dardano (Rebecca Afonwy-Jones), with shape-shifting spells and devilish devices. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Taking to the mountains: Spectacle galore at Tuesday’s BANFF Mountain Film Festival night at York Barbican

Film scenery of the week: BANFF Mountain Film Festival World Tour, York Barbican, Tuesday, 7.30pm

THE BANFF Mountain Film Festival joins the world’s best adventure filmmakers and explorers as they push themselves to the limits in the most remote, breath-taking corners of the globe.

Witness epic human-powered feats, life-affirming challenges and mind-blowing cinematography on the big screen in a new collection of short films. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Rufus Wainwright: Follow him to York Barbican on Wednesday to discover how to Unfollow The Rules

Rule-breaker of the week ahead: Rufus Wainwright: Unfollow The Rules Tour, York Barbican, Wednesday, doors 7pm

CANADIAN singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will be accompanied by a new band, under guitarist Brian Green’s musical direction, for his set of arch classics and new cuts from his latest album.

“I consider Unfollow the Rules my first fully mature album; it is like a bookend to the beginning of my career,” he says. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Under discussion: David Suchet’s Poirot years and much more besides from a 52-year career on stage and screen

Chat show of the week ahead: David Suchet, Poirot And More, A Retrospective, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, 3pm and 8pm

DAVID Suchet is retracing his steps as a young actor on a tour of 20 theatres in conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me.

Suchet, 75, will be looking back fondly on his illustrious five-decade career, shedding new, intimate light on his most beloved performances as they discuss the actor behind the Belgian detective and the many characters he has portrayed on stage and screen. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

“Out come the witches, creeps and freaks,” promises York vocal drag queen Velma Celli for a Halloweenish Equinox show at Impossible York

The glam night with the Halloweenish swish: The Velma Celli Show: Equinox, Impossible York Wonderbar, York, October 15, 7.30pm

YORK drag diva deluxe Velma Celli’s October residency night at Impossible York will be a Halloweenish twist on Velma’s Equinox show, the one with “witches, creeps and freaks”.

“I’ll be doing Hocus Pocus, I Put A Spell On You, Radiohead’s Creep, A Thousand Years from Twilight and much more gorgeous musical gore besides,” says Velma, the spectacular creation of musical theatre actor, cruise-ship headline act and Nola jazz singer Ian Stroughair. Box office: impossibleyork.com/wonderbar.

John Godber’s B&B comedy Sunny Side Up! is up for a return to Stephen Joseph Theatre

John Godber and Jane Thornton premiering Sunny Side Up! at the Stephen Joseph Theatre last October. Picture: Martha Godber

THE John Godber Company returns to the Stephen Joseph Theatre next month with Sunny Side Up!, the coastal comedy premiered by the Godbers in a family bubble at the Scarborough theatre last autumn.

Rehearsed at home, John Godber’s play played to socially distanced sell-out audiences at the end of October 2020, just before the start of the second pandemic lockdown. From October 7 to 9, it will be performed before a socially distanced audience once more in the Round.

Writer-director Godber will reprise his role as Barney alongside his wife, fellow writer Jane Thornton, and daughter, Martha Godber. Daughter Elizabeth completes the family line-up as company stage manager; Graham Kirk provides the design and lighting.

In Godber’s moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina share stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy.

Jane Thornton and Martha Godber in a scene from last October’s premiere of John Godber’s Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Elizabeth Godber

“If you’re thinking of holidaying at home this year, why not book into the Sunny Side Boarding House soon,” invites Godber, whose seaside feel-good rollercoaster digs into the essence of “staycations”.

Godber’s play is told in his signature style, blending authenticity and pathos as he addresses the problems of levelling up, leaving home and never forgetting where you come from.

This John Godber Company and Theatre Royal, Wakefield production can be seen at the SJT on October 7 at 1.30pm and 7.30pm, October 8, 7.30pm, and October 9, 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets, priced from £10, are available on 01723 370541 and at sjt.uk.com.

Barney trouble: John Godber in the role of struggling B&B proprietor Barney in Sunny Side Up!. Picture: Martha Godber

REVIEW: Mikron Theatre Company in Atalanta Forever **** and A Dog’s Tale ***

Come on, Atalanta Forever: Elizabeth Robin, left, Thomas Cotran, Rachel Benson and James McLean, on commentary duty, in Amanda Whittington’s women’s football drama, at the Piece Hall, Halifax. Picture: Elizabeth Baker

Mikron Theatre Company in Atalanta Forever and A Dog’s Tale, on tour on boat, road and holding on to a lead until September 19

AFTER a Covid-cancelled year of no shows but resolute fund-raising to secure their future, Marsden’s Mikron Theatre Company are on their travels once more, giving plays the canal route treatment where possible aboard narrowboat Tyseley.

This should have been their 50th year of “theatre anywhere for everyone”, but those celebrations must wait until 2022. Nevertheless, the refreshing sight of company stalwart James McLean back on stage, in the company of fellow actor-musicians Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Cotran and luxuriant-haired Thomas Cotran, was cause enough to bring out the cheers at the Piece Hall press night for Amanda Whittington’s “fight for women’s football” drama, Atalanta Forever, in the Halifax open air.

Two nights later, and the same cast parked up at Scarcroft Allotments, in York, just as bushy tailed and bright eyed for the musical canine comedy caper A Dog’s Tale, Poppy Hollman’s debut professional commission after taking part in Mikron’s Writers’ Scheme in 2018.

Halifax, first. Noises off could be heard, nothing too distracting, not only from the bars around the Piece Hall but the peregrines that have taken over the Square Chapel gothic tower as their aerie. Then again, the players of Huddersfield’s Atalanta AFC women’s football team would have been used to crowds at fund-raising games for wounded soldiers, especially when playing the mighty Preston factory team Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, legendary gay star winger Lily Parr et al.

Thomas Cotran, left, Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Robin and James McLean in a scene from Atalanta Forever. PIcture: Elizabeth Baker

Parr was the first woman to be inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame, her pioneering story being told on stage in both Benjamin Peel’s Not A Game For Girls and Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish’s Offside, a play football, feminism and female empowerment.

Little is known of Atalanta AFC, however, who played for only a couple of seasons from 1920 before folding in 1924. “All that remains is a fixture list, a few newspaper reports and precious team photos,” writes Whittington in her programme notes.

“Who are those pioneering women and girls,” she asks. “The silence around them gave us space to imagine who played for Atalanta and why? It also allowed me to draw on my experience in the long shadow of the FA ban [on woman’s football that ran from 1921 to 1971].”

Aged 11, Whittington was the only girl who played in a 1980s’ Nottinghamshire boys’ village tournament and was promptly advised to stop because it “wasn’t appropriate”. She still feels the injustice, the sense of shame of wanting to do something she was “not meant to”.

Playwright Amanda Whittington: “Atalanta Forever is my revenge play,” she says, after being told it “wasn’t appropriate” for her to be playing in a boys’ football tournament at the age of 11

Atalanta Forever is her revenge play, she says. Amanda has written 30-plus plays, from Be My Baby to Ladies Day, Bollywood Jane to Mighty Atoms, and this time it’s personal. But not too personal, and not too, too serious either.

Although written with a campaigning zeal for the female empowerment of these ground-breaking players of the Twenties, Atalanta Forever is irreverent too about the beautiful game that is often anything but that, typified by the opening Rules Of The Game song. Ruby Of The Rovers and Girl’s Own adventures meet Match Of The Day and John Godber’s Rugby League physical comedy Up’n’Under.

Atalanta AFC blue-and-white scarves knitted by Mikron supporters decorate the fencing – and were tempting to purloin as the second half turned chillier – as we learn of the back stories of Annie (Benson) and Ethel (Robin), one a fireworks factory worker, the other a tram driver, when they join the new team.

Into the story come the multi-role playing Cotran (as team captain Constance, radical coach Ms Waller, Huddersfield Town legend Billy Smith and more besides) and McLean (as scoffing groundsman Arthur, a disapproving mother and John Motson send-up, Motty Johnson).

MIkron Theatre Company performing Atalanta Forever to a socially distanced full house at the PIece Hall, Halifax

In Mikron tradition, Whittington’s play is as educative as it is entertaining, balanced between righteous ire and humour, football match highlights and life off the pitch. She weaves in accounts of being stopped from writing left handed, the fate of a conscientious objector, massive post-war unemployment and strikes and a mother’s scorn for suffrage and socialism, but at the same she revels in an impromptu match with beret-wearing French tourists and even a Boris Johnson cameo.

How else could the play end but with a tribute to Lily Parr, a cheer for women’s football now thriving and a “nod to the brave girls who carried on”. Atalanta Forever is a resilient triumph, from Whittington’s stirring writing to Marianne McNamara’s pacy direction, Kieran Buckeridge’s playful songs to a chameleon cast of multiple talents. Back of the net!

Two evenings later, it was sunnier by far as dog owners took their pooches along the lane beside the Mikron van at Scarcroft Allotments. Again, they had brought only the simplest of set designs with a rail for hanging myriad costumes, instruments and props to the side, a raised stage and no lighting.

One of the joys of a long Mikron summer is the chance to see the same cast tackling two plays (although, alas, the 2021 tour being restricted to outdoor performances means no Clements Hall show this year in York, so you will have to travel farther afield).

Actor-musicians Elizabeth Robin, left, Thomas Cotran, James McLean and Rachel Benson in Mikron Theatre Company’s A Dog’s Tale

After football in Atalanta Forever, McLean, Benson, Robin and Cotran head into another competitive environment, the Cruft’s dog show, in A Dog’s Tale: cat-loving Poppy Hollman’s look at canines past and present, Cruft’s now and Cruft’s when started by cat-owning Charles Cruft, a suitably dogged late-19th century showman of Barnum instincts, puppy-keen to take on the stuffy Kennel Club.

The bond between people and their ‘best friends’ is ever present, ever enduring, even if shenanigans and skullduggery blight the competition in Hollman’s tale, one informed by her visit to Cruft’s in the name of an intrigued novice’s research.

History combines with a little mystery, a sense of mischief with an outsider’s initiation, in the world of “heroic hounds, pampered pooches and naughty nobblers”, as Benson’s Linda and her wayward rescue mutt, Gary, find themselves pursued by security through the halls of Crufts, accused of a “terrible crime”.

Robin and McLean have much fun as Margo and Carl, unbearably precious, ever-panicking, regular Cruft’s competitors; Cotran reels off all manner of accents in a multitude of roles; McLean twinkles as Cruft and has the best cameo in a spoof on Barbara Woodhouse.

Don’t be misled by the dog! A Dog’s Tale playwright Poppy Hollman is really a cat lover

Hollman challenges her cast with 20 characters between them, and in her first full-scale play, the characters and caricatures are her strongest suit, along with her sense of fun, both sharper than the dialogue and the slightly clunky storyline involving Gary’s crime and the naughty nobbler.

By comparison with McNamara’s Atalanta Forever, Rachel Gee’s direction has to work harder to maintain momentum and maximise the humour, but the performances are typically energetic, inventive, engaging and diverse, and the one scene with interloping cats is a gem of physical comedy and knowing contrast with the otherwise omnipresent dogs, topped off by a Dogs V. Cats rap battle.

Musical director Rebekah Hughes’s compositions for Hollman’s smart lyrics are a blast and Celia Perkins delivers fabulous costume designs that accentuate character superbly. The stiff dog’s leads with simply a collar where the head would be (rather than puppets) are particular favourite among the props.

Ultimately a little overstretched, the eager-to-please A Dog’s Tale nevertheless has much to enjoy, announcing a new talent in Hollman with the tools to take her comedy writing to the next level.  

For the full tour itineraries and booking details, go to: mikron.org.uk. P.S. Dogs are welcome at most performances of A Dog’s Tale.

Catty comment: Thomas Cotran, Elizabeth Robin and Rachel Benson’s moggies revel in their show-stealing cameo in A Dog’s Tale

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

John Godber Company sets sail at Hull dry dock with filleted, better, topical Moby Dick

Director John Godber watching a rehearsal for Moby Dick at Stage @TheDock, Hull. Picture: Antony Robling

WHERE better to stage John Godber and Nick Lane’s radical reworking of Herman Melville’s maritime (mis)adventure Moby Dick than at Hull’s dry dock amphitheatre.

Welcome to Stage@TheDock – nearest car park, the new Fruit Market multi-storey – where the John Godber Company is presenting a 70-minute, no-interval, fast-paced, socially-distanced, physical production with a cast of eight until June 12.

“We are the first people to put a show on there for more than a couple of nights,” says director and co-director Godber.

What exactly is the Stage@TheDock? “The amphitheatre was established for Hull’s UK City Of Culture in 2017, up by The Deep. It’s what was called Hull’s dry dock and it’s now part of a new development of offices, digital spaces and restaurants,” says Godber.

“It’s also the HQ of the development company, Wykeland Property Group, who put money into setting up the venue and have given us financial support for this show: enough to put the production on in these times; enough to energise us all.

“We started talking with Wykeland in the middle of last year and then nothing developed, but now [with Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap] the opportunity has come up.”

Adhering to social-distancing rules is restricting the 350-seat amphitheatre to a Covid-secure capacity of around 90. “That meant we needed to do a story with a classical arc, one that would fill that space, but we knew that staging Moby Dick would not be possible without funding support,” says Godber.

Frazer Hammill, Sophie Bevan and Lamin Touray in rehearsal for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

“That’s why, though we don’t normally seek Arts Council [England] funding, we put in a Culture Recovery Fund bid that’s given us more than a match for Wykeland, and we put some money in too.”

The revised adaptation by Yorkshire playwrights Godber and Lane transports audiences from what was the port’s central dry dock to the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship the Pequod in his catastrophic, deranged battle with the monster white whale, Moby Dick.

“It’s a show we first did at Hull Truck in 2002, and I was really pleased with it. We had a cast of only four: what were we thinking?! It was almost impossible,” recalls Godber.

“We’re delighted to have a cast of eight this time because the pandemic has been a crucifying time for anyone in the creative arts. They’re all local professionals, with two of them new to the professional stage, and we wanted actors with a relationship with this city and this coast.”

Godber’s cast duly draws on actors from Sproatley, Long Riston, Hornsea and Goole, alongside former Wyke College students and locally born actors who have appeared at the National Theatre in War Horse, Warner Bros films and BBC Radio Four soap opera The Archers.

Step forward Frazer Hammill as Frank; Nick Figgis as Rob; Tom Gibbons as Pat; Martha Godber as Lucy; Lamin Touray as Ant; Sophie Bevan as Kate; Caitlin Townend as Sue and Goole-born May Tether as Lily, following her appearance as Jill in the York Stage pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk.

“The Covid-compliance to put on this show is almost a show in itself. The actors are staying together in an Airbnb in Hull, doing Covid tests twice a week,” says Godber.

Once Hull’s central dry dock, now the home of Stage @The Dock, where the John Godber Company cast is seen in rehearsal. Picture: Antony Robling

“We’ve employed 20 people overall, from producer, production manager and company manager to front of house, stage manager and costume designer, to actors and outreach educators. We’ve all thought, ‘what would we have done without this?’. Not the finance, but the sense of purpose.”

After a couple of phone discussions with Lane, Godber was the one to put the new script together. “It’s a better show because we’ve filleted it. We didn’t want it to be longer than 70 minutes, because the book [written in 1851] is unwieldy to say the least!” he says.

“Our first version was told by four old soaks in a bar that was about to be knocked down, but now instead all eight characters have a relationship with this part of Hull, through their parents or grandparents, as a place for a sandwich and a chat.”

Significantly too, the script makes reference to Hull’s global importance as a port, its former prowess as a whaling centre and contemporary issues of conservation (that chime with Godber, wife Jane and daughter Martha becoming vegans).

“When I was at Hull Truck, I didn’t write about fishing and trawling at first as I didn’t believe it was my privilege, as I came from a mining family, not a fishing one,” recalls Godber.

“But then I thought, if we are going to do something about the fishing industry, it better be the biggest: Moby Dick!

“I like going to Bruges on the Hull Zeebrugge ferry, but that’s only 14 hours; The Prequod is setting off for three years!”

John, Martha and Jane Godber in their Stephen Joseph Theatre dressing room during last autumn’s run of Sunny Side Up

Godber smiles at the rise to the top of the charts of a certain former Aidrie postman with a sea shanty in the pandemic. “One of the weird things, in lockdown, was how Wellerman caught on on TikTok, when Nathan Evans said he wanted to do something to get him ‘out of lockdown’, with all the stoicism lockdown demanded,” he says.

Last autumn, the Godber family bubble of John, Jane, actor daughter Martha and company manager daughter Elizabeth premiered his play Sunny Side Up at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, between lockdowns, rehearsing at home. “It was the only way we could physically put on a new play that wasn’t a one-man show,” he says.

Now, Godber is at the forefront of the second wave of theatre’s return. “The fact you know, without funding, you’re not going to break even, you could think, ‘so what’s the point of it?’, but the point of it is that this is what we do,” says Godber. “Even if has to be a stab in the dark.

“I do believe there’s been a dissolving into Ground Zero for the arts. A survey said 31 per cent of people won’t go back to cultural activities in the same way. That’s a lot of people and they won’t return. I hope people will, but I don’t know if it will materialise.

“That’s why we’re doing this play in the open air for a number of reasons. It’s almost Covid-zero with social distancing, people in masks,  sanitisers, the space being wiped down regularly.”

John Godber Company in Moby Dick, Stage@The Dock, Hull, until June 12, 7pm nightly plus 4pm matinees on June 5, 9 and 12.

To maintain social distancing, tickets must be bought in groups of one, two or four; wheelchair spaces are available. Seating is unreserved, so early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. Tickets cost £20 at Eventbrite.

John and Martha Godber in rehearsal for Moby Dick. Picture: Antony Robling

John Godber keeps it in the family for Sunny Side Up’s journey to the Yorkshire coast

Family bubble for Sunny Side Up!: John Godber with his wife Jane Thornton and daughters Martha and Elizabeth

“BUMPING” into Britain’s second most performed living playwright as paths crossed while stretching a lockdown leg at Pocklington Canal Head in early July, one question had to be asked.

“Must be plenty of material for a play about Covid-19, John?”. “No comedy there,” replied John Godber.

Nevertheless, the waiting for Godber’s new play is over. Presented by the John Godber Company and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! will open in The Round at the SJT tonight (October 28).

Depicting a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, the world premiere of the former Hull Truck artistic director’s holiday drama will be a family affair, starring the Godber lockdown bubble of writer-director John, wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha. Elder daughter Elizabeth – who has just enrolled for a PhD at Hull University, studying the poetry of Emily Dickinson, by the way – is participating too as the company stage manager.

“What a strange time it’s been,” says John. “Shortly after I saw you at Pocklington Canal Head, I got a phone-call from Paul Robinson [the SJT artistic director] saying, ‘We want to open in October; I know you’re in a social bubble with Jane, Liz and Martha; would you like to do a new play together this autumn?

“It was like winning the Oscar, to have the opportunity to do your trade again – we’ve not received any Arts Council funding – and just to be clear, we could only do it in these circumstances as a family bubble.”

Reflecting on life in lockdown and beyond in Covid-19 2020, John says: “If we are following the science, which science is it? Watching all the news coverage on TV ends up making you feel ill,” says John.

Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson: Invited John Godber to write a play for the autumn season. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

“We live in a significant property with a lot of space but we’re still going mad, climbing up the walls. What’s it like for those living in a cramped apartment with no garden in lockdown? It must be like [Jean-Paul] Sartre. Do politicians understand that?”

John, the son of an Upton miner, has “always voted Labour for lots of reasons”. “We know Covid has been a challenge, but the Government can find all this money for Test and Trace and to pay nine million people’s wages in furlough, yet what an own goal to refuse to support free meals for schoolchildren in the holidays,” he says.

Sunny Side Up! is not a political comment on Covid times, but more so on how we have reacted to lockdown. “When Paul asked me to write a play, we’d been doing lots of family walks, going to the coast, walking on bridal paths, by canals,” says John.

“I thought there might be something in thinking about what our seaside towns might look like to people going there for the first time or going back after a long time.

“You have to take Scarborough and Filey out of the equation, but I wondered what the function of our seaside towns and villages is. I think they remind us of where we’ve come from, in terms of families enjoying simpler times.”

Fraisthorpe Beach, four miles south of Bridlington, has been one such coastal haven for John. “Have you been there? Mile after mile after mile of unbroken sand, which is just amazing,” he says.

“We’ve started to look at places locally through Covid eyes. I’m certainly looking at simplicity in our lives now. In the early part of lockdown, going on walks from the house, you’d look at a field for the first time that we must have walked past for 30 years and you suddenly think how beautiful it is.

The poster for John Godber’s new play Sunny Side Up!

“Or through walking along the Pocklington Canal, you start looking at the Industrial Revolution and the growth of Pocklington at that time.”

Summing up his philosophy brought on by Covid restrictions, John says: “It’s not about regression; it’s about simplicity.”

This set him on the path of writing Sunny Side Up!, wherein struggling Yorkshire coast B&B proprietors Barney, Tina and daughter Cath share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in a “seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about”.

“This is not a play about Covid, though it has references. It’s more about social mobility,” says John.

“Sunny Side is a fictitious East Coast Yorkshire resort that is so small, you wouldn’t find it on the map, where B&B owner Barney is very much a Brexiteer, a little Englander.

“Graham, a retired university pro-vice chancellor who’s done very nicely through education is invited there by his sister, Tina, and coming up 70 he’s going back to where he came from – a very ordinary background – but he’s never gone back since…until now.

“He sees it’s a place where they have turned the oxygen off. No jobs; no trains; two buses to get there; the nearest dual carriageway 15 miles away.

“But these are fantastic places, almost mythical, where the colouring and the sweep are incredible, so it’s a play about this guy coming to terms with ‘why haven’t I been back here, because it’s amazing?’. He realises his separation from his small-town roots doesn’t match with his reading of the world.”

On a bicycle made for two views: John Godber and Jane Thornton’s clashing cyclists in The Scary Bikers, Godber’s 2019 play about Brexit, bikes and bereavement.. Picture: Anthony Robling

A fast-moving one-act play, 64 minutes straight through, Sunny Side Up! is a “funny, fish-out-of-water story, but it has pathos and there’s magic realism too”, says John. “It’s not rubbing anyone’s nose in it, but those who get it will know what it’s about.

“You can go anywhere in the country and see places that are suffering, places that have been left behind, places that need water…but many of us wouldn’t spot a real person if we passed them in the street, like Graham wouldn’t.

“But here he’s confronted by people he thinks he’s been addressing [in his academic work], only to find he’s not been able to change that world. Just as the Westminster bubble dilutes the politicians from the reality.

“But having said that, this play is also a very humane, very touching, very funny story of a relationship between a brother and a sister.”

Against the backdrop of Covid-19 and renewed talk of a widening North-South divide, John says: “I think we are becoming divisive. There’s a line in the play that says, ‘we have to start again’. We’ve reached that point where we do have to re-start. I’m 64 now and you would have thought this would have been sorted out when we were younger men. Has it ossified, with social mobility no longer being a thing, but why?”

Rehearsed at home, Sunny Side Up! is the second John Godber work in lockdown. “The first one was in May, when I decided to write a 15-part radio drama for BBC Radio Humberside called Essentials, about a family needing to talk to each other,” says John.

“We recorded it in Liz’s walk-in wardrobe, with Martha’s boyfriend, Henry, doing the technical stuff, and we were all in each eight-minute episode.

“It was like The Archers, set around the family breakfast, with the father being a delivery driver for Tesco, delivering essentials.”

“It had a lot of politics in the early version, with them all saying ‘I think you’ll have a legal problem with that,” says John Godber of the writing process for Sunny Side Up!

When the invitation came to write a play for the SJT, John initially saw it as a chance to “draw anything on the canvas” in the prevailing Covid circumstances. “It had a lot of politics in the early version, with them all saying ‘I think you’ll have a legal problem with that’, and I decided, ‘I don’t think people want to sit there in a mask with me ranting about Boris Johnson.”

Under social-distancing measures, the audience capacity is heavily reduced: a new experience for Godber. “It’s fascinating because I’ve had a career of trying to fill theatres, but now you don’t have to ‘fill’ theatres,” says John, whose seven SJT performances have sold out.

“So it’s a bit like the early stuff: Happy Jack, September In The Rain, which I was going back to with The Scary Bikers last year. It’s that meta thing: taking in politics, self-analysis, class, all neatly told with four chairs and a suitcase.”

Those four chairs and a suitcase will next travel to Hull, after Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych asked Godber to bring Sunny Side Up! to his former stomping ground. “It’s like Back To The Future; all the props in a suitcase and all our stuff in the back of my car,” says John.

As for working in a family bubble: “Martha’s all over me like a rash about the play! She and Liz don’t let me get away with anything. I can take it from Jane, but now it’s from my  kids too!”

John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31: 7.30pm, Wednesday; 1.30pm, 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2.30pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. All sold out. Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22: 7.30pm, Tuesday; 2pm and 7.30pm, Wednesday; 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday; 2pm, 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01482 323638 or at hulltruck.co.uk/whats-on/drama/sunny-side-up/

More Things To Do in and around York and at home despite the second wave. List No 17, courtesy of The Press, York

Keeping an ear to the wind for the sound of an artbeat. Charles Hutchinson stands by ScallopMaggi Hambling’s memorial sculpture to composer Benjamin Britten on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Picture: Celestine Dubruel

WE may be beset by tiers before bedtime, but the arts world will not lie down meekly in the face of the pandemic’s second wave. Instead, Charles Hutchinson highlights events on-going, on the horizon and online.

Robin Ince and Laura Lexx: The last hurrah for Your Place Comedy this weekend

The rule of six, over and out: Robin Ince and Laura Lexx, Your Place Comedy, live-streaming on Sunday, 8pm

YOUR Place Comedy, the virtual comedy club launched in lockdown by Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones and ten independent Yorkshire and Humber arts venues, concludes with its sixth line-up this weekend.

The last laugh will go to The Infinite Monkey Cage co-host Robin Ince and Jurgen Klopp’s number one fan, Laura Lexx, introduced by remotely by regular host Tim FitzHigham, alias Pittancer of Selby, as they perform from their living rooms into yours. The show is free to watch on YouTube and Twitch via yourplacecomedy.co.uk, with donations welcome afterwards.

Matt Haig: Discussing his tale of regret, hope, forgiveness and second chances

Online literary event of the week: Matt Haig, The Midnight Library, Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, streaming from 8am tomorrow (October 23)

MATT Haig, the award-winning author with the York past, discusses his latest novel, The Midnight Library, a tale of regret, hope and forgiveness set in the strangest of libraries, one that houses second chances.

Haig asks a burning question: If you could wipe away your past mistakes and choose again, would you definitely make better choices? If you can’t view the free stream at 8am, second chances abound: “Come back here on Friday, at a time to suit you,” say the festival organisers. Go to: https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/literature-festival/matt-haig/

Offering glimpses into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious: Rachel Goodyear’s Limina, part of York Mediale’s Human Nature exhibition at York Art Gallery

Exhibition of the week and beyond: Human Nature, York Mediale/York Museums Trust, at Madsen Galleries, York Art Gallery, until January 24 2021

THIS triptych of installations under the banner of Human Nature combines the British premiere of Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson’s sensory woodland short film Embers And The Giants with two York Mediale commissions.

London immersive art collection Marshmallow Laser Feast look at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echo the ecosystem in nature inThe Tides Within Us.  

Manchester artist and animator Rachel Goodyear’s Limina combines a surrealist, Freudian and Jungian series of animations and intricate drawings, responding to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection as she offers glimpses into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.

Hannah Davies: York writer, tutor, actress and spoken-word performer, taking part in Signal Fires Festival

Fired-up event of the week: Northern Girls, Pilot Theatre and Arcade, at Scarborough YMCA Car Park, for Signal Fires Festival, October 27 and 28, 7pm to 8pm

YORK company Pilot Theatre team up with new Scarborough arts makers Arcade to present Northern Girls by firelight for the nationwide Signal Fires Festival.

The one-hour performance sets free the stories of girls and women who live along the North East coastline, encouraging them to write and present tales that matter most to them in 2020.

Short pieces commissioned from Asma Elbadawi, Zoe Cooper, Maureen Lennon and Charley Miles will be complemented by York spoken-word artist Hannah Davies’s work with a group of young women from Scarborough.

Re-Wild Geodome at Pavilion Lawn, York Museum Gardens, for York Design Week, October 26 to November 1, 11am to 4pm

Both eyes on the future festival of the week ahead: York Design Week, October 26 to November 1

SUPPORTED by York’s Guild of Media Arts, the York Design Week festival will seek to design a positive future for the city under five themes: Re-Wild, Play, Share, Make Space and Trust.

In Covid-19 2020, the festival will combine in-person events with social-distancing measures in place, and a wide range of online workshops, exhibition seminars and talks.

Look out for workshops bringing together homeless people and architects to work on solutions for housing; sessions on innovation and rule-breaking; an exhibition inspired by a York printing firm; discussions on community art and planning and city trails designed by individual York citizens. Go to yorkdesignweek.com for full details.

Utterly Rutterly: Barrie Rutter’s solo show will combine tall tales, anecdotes, poetry and prose

Barrie’s back: An Evening With Barrie Rutter, The Holbeck, Jenkinson Lawn, Holbeck, Leeds, November 7, 7.15pm

BARRIE Rutter OBE is to return to the stage for the first time since his successful treatment for throat cancer.

The Hull-born titan of northern theatre, now 73, will perform his one-man show at The Holbeck,  home to the Slung Low theatre company in Leeds. The Saturday night of tall tales and anecdotes, poetry and prose will be a fundraiser for the installation of a new lift at the south Leeds community base, the oldest social club in the country.

“I’m absolutely thrilled at the invitation from Alan Lane and his team at Slung Low to perform at The Holbeck,” says Rutter. “What goes on in there is truly inspirational and I’m delighted support this wonderful venue.” 

Meet the Godbers: Jane, Martha, John and Elizabeth

Family business of the autumn: John Godber Company in Sunny Side Up!, in The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 28 to 31; Hull Truck Theatre, November 17 to 22

THE waiting for Godber’s new play is over. The world premiere of the ground-breaking former Hull Truck artistic director’s Sunny Side Up! will be a family affair, starring John Godber, his wife Jane Thornton and daughter Martha, while daughter Elizabeth will be doing the stage management.

Written and directed by Godber, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! depicts a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it. “Join proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in this seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about,” invites John.

Showtime for Anton du Beke and Erin Boag at York Barbican…but not until 2022

Looking ahead to 2021/2022: Dance shows at the treble at York Barbican

STRICTLY Come Dancing’s glittering weekend return to BBC One was a reminder that regular professionals Anton du Beke, Giovanni Pernice, Graziano di Prima, Aljaz Škorjanec and Janette Manrara are all booked to play York Barbican sometime over the rainbow, Killjoy Covid permitting.

Ballroom couple Anton & Erin’s: Showtime celebration of Astaire, Rogers, Sinatra, Garland, Chaplin, Minnelli, Bassey, Tom Jones and Elton John has moved from February 19 2021 to February 18 2022.

Aljaz and Graziano’s Here Comes The Boys show with former Strictly pro Pasha Kovalev has switched to June 30 2021; Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering The Oscars is now booked in for April 21 2021, and Giovanni’s This Is Me! is in the diary for March 17 next year.

Brydon and band: Rob Brydon will add song to laughter in next year’s new tour show

News just in: Rob Brydon in An Evening Of Song & Laughter, York Barbican, April 14 2021

WOULD I lie to you? Actor, comedian, impressionist, presenter and holiday-advert enthusiast Rob Brydon is to play with a band in York. It’s…true!

Yes, Brydon and his eight-piece band will take to the road next year for 20 dates with his new show, Rob Brydon: A Night of Songs & Laughter, visiting York Barbican on April 14 on his second tour to combine songs and music with his trademark wit and comedy. Expect Brydon interpretations varying from fellow Welshman Tom Jones to Tom Waits, Guys And Dolls to Elvis Presley.

The 5ft 7inch Brydon last appeared at York Barbican for two nights of his improvised stand-up show, I Am Standing Up, in October 2017. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

A magical trail for half-term

And what about….?

HEADING out on the Indie York Medieval & Magical Treasure Trail, running from October 24 to November 1 for half-term entertainment, with full details at indieyork.co.uk.

Likewise, taking up the York Ghost Merchants’ cordial invitation to be spooked by the first annual Ghost Week on the same dates. Among the highlights in “the city of a thousand ghosts” are The Little York Ghost Hunt and The Ghost Parade (also part of the Indie York trail). Discover more at yorkghostmerchants.com.

Both events are entirely free.

Good Godber! Stephen Joseph Theatre to re-start indoor live shows next month. Hull Truck Theatre to reopen too in November

Family drama: Playwright John Godber with wife Jane Thornton and daughters Martha and Elizabeth

LIVE indoor theatre will return on the East Coast this autumn at both Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and Hull Truck Theatre.

Today, the SJT announces an “innovative autumn and winter season for 2020 that has been carefully crafted to combine live theatre for socially distanced audiences with digital work for those that prefer to stay at home”.

In the SJT’s headline news, the waiting for Godber’s new play is over. The world premiere of the ground-breaking former Hull Truck artistic director’s Sunny Side Up! will be a family affair, starring John Godber, his wife Jane Thornton and their daughter Martha Godber from October 28 to 31 in The Round.

Written and directed by Godber, the humorous and moving Sunny Side Up! depicts a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it. “Join proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina as they share their stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy in this seaside rollercoaster that digs into what our ‘staycations’ are all about,” invites John.

Further news bongs go to a new audio recording by former SJT artistic director Sir Alan Ayckbourn and a one-woman Christmas show, likely to be one of the few in the region, specially rewritten to adapt to prevailing Covid-19 pandemic circumstances.

After the lockdown success of his debut audio play, Anno Domino, premiered by writer-director Ayckbourn and his wife, actor Heather Stoney, Ayckbourn goes solo for Haunting Julia, his ghostly 1994 play, wherein he will play all three parts. As before, his master’s voice can be heard only via the SJT website, sjt.uk.com, with the play being available online “throughout December”, although the exact dates are yet to be rubber-stamped.

Going solo: Sir Alan Ayckbourn will re-visit his 1994 ghostly play Haunting Julia in a solo audio recording in December

The SJT Christmas show, from December 4 to 30, reassembles the crack team behind the hit productions of the past four winters: director Paul Robinson, writer Nick Lane and musical director Simon Slater, the latter two both serving up shows earlier in the season too.

Adapted by Lane from the Hans Christian Andersen story, the solo version of The Snow Queen will be performed by Polly Lister, who played Mari in Jim Cartwright’s The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and Di in Amelia Bullmore’s Di And Viv And Rose when part of the SJT’s 2017 summer repertory company.

Scarborough-born Slater, an SJT associate artist, will appear in Douglas Post’s one-man thriller Bloodshot from October 21 to 24 in The Round, where all productions will be mounted, save for the online performances.

Slater will play Derek Eveleigh, a photographer with a serious drinking problem, who pursues a mysterious female subject across 1957 London from racially troubled Notting Hill to the raucous entertainments of Soho.

Often comedic Nick Lane’s sardonic, surreal and “intensely autobiographical” first straight play, My Favourite Summer, was premiered at Hull Truck in January and February 2007. This autumn, the original cast and the belting Nineties’ soundtrack will return in the torrid tale of Dave, who spends a month working alongside a nutcase called Melvin in the summer job from hell in 1995. 

Winter chill: Polly Lister in the SJT’s one-woman Christmas show, The Snow Queen, written by Nick Lane

Saving money to take the girl he loves away on holiday, before she disappears out of his life forever, has never been so hard. Still, at least the weather’s nice in a comedy for “everyone who’s ever been in love and lived to tell the tale”.

Lane, whose adaptation of The Sign Of Four was well received by SJT audiences last year, will direct the semi-staged 2020 performance of My Favourite Summer in a run from November 12 to 14.

The autumn/winter season will begin on October 1 with a live performance on Zoom of Love Letters At Home. “In response to our desire for connection in times of physical distance, Uninvited Guests have created an innovative, digital, wholly personal and wonderfully live experience,” the SJT announces.

By collecting song requests and dedications from audience members, Uninvited Guests create a show guaranteed to be unique to each audience. Join them on Zoom to raise a glass to long lost and current loves, to mums and dads, and to absent friends.

Light entertainment: A switched-on Katie Arnstein in her one-woman show Sexy Lamp

“Have you ever been treated like an inanimate object?” asks Katie Arnstein in her solo show Sexy Lamp on October 15. Katie has suffered that slight, she says, although in reality she is a “friendly, lovable and hilarious real-life person”.

Join her as she re-lives, through story and songs, all the times she was not seen as one, however. Billed as “somewhere between the comedy of Victoria Wood, the comfort of going for a drink with your best mate and the high drama of Hamlet”, Arnstein’s show won both Show of the Week and Pleasance Pick at last year’s VAULT Festival in London. “It’s nothing like Hamlet,” she corrects herself.

In Alison Carr’s dark comedy, Dogwalker, on November 6 and 7, Helen finds a dead body in the local dog park, whereupon suddenly everyone is paying attention to her. At least for a little while.

Now she has had a taste of the limelight, Helen will not fade into the shadows without a fight in a play that first dropped through the SJT Open Script Submissions window and is being developed for a potential run at the Edinburgh Fringe under the direction of Chelsey Gillard, the SJT’s Carne Trust associate director.

Carr, by the way, had the disappointment of her sold-out performances of The Last Quiz Night In Earth in March being scrapped under the Coronavirus theatre shutdown.

On the beach: Serena Manteghi, in her guise as teenage single mum Yasmin in Build A Rocket. In November, she returns to the SJT. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

After writer Alexander Flanagan-Wright and musician Phil Grainger’s performances of linking shows Orpheus and Eurydice in the At The Mill season at Stillington Mill and York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival, Serena Manteghi will be in the cast for SJT performances from November 19 to 21.

Serena premiered Eurydice to award-winning success in Australia, when joined in the two-hander by actor and designer Casey Jay Andrews. She will be familiar to SJT audiences from playing LV in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and Yasmin in the premiere of Christopher York’s Build A Rocket.

From The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre stable, Orpheus and Eurydice are modern re-tellings of ancient Greek mythology, interweaving a world of dive bars, side streets and ancient gods. (Newsflash: 21/10/2020: Flanagan-Wright, Grainger, Manteghi and Andrews will be performing the plays together in a new version at the SJT).

A series of rehearsed play readings will take place in the theatre on October 7, 13 and 20, then each Tuesday from November 3 to 24, including Sarah Gordon’s The Underdog, Katie Redford’s Tapped and Rebecca Jade Hammond’s Canton. 

Further shows will be announced soon, among them an evening of conversation with Hull-born Maureen Lipman and an innovative online show from outspoken Denby Dale comedian Daniel Kitson.

“We see it as part of our ongoing civic role to open as soon as is reasonably practicable and to present irresistible work,” says SJT artistic director Paul Robinson

The re-opened SJT has been showing films in the McCarthy at the former Odeon cinema building since last month and will continue to do so. Now, artistic director and joint chief executive Paul Robinson is looking forward to the return of live theatre.

“We’ve worked hard to create an ambitious season of relatively small-scale work, but one that promises great entertainment and really does have something for everyone, including shows for those who are happy to return to the building, and also for those who aren’t.

“We see it as part of our ongoing civic role to open as soon as is reasonably practicable and to present irresistible work alongside meticulously thought-through health and safety measures.

“Our family show at Christmas, for instance, was originally written for five actors, but that would have made rehearsing impossible under current guidelines. Writer Nick Lane has adapted it into a remarkable one-woman show that we’re confident will be every bit as much fun as the original and will really showcase the multi-talented Polly Lister.” 

The SJT has introduced comprehensive measures for the safety and comfort of its audiences – full details at https://www.sjt.uk.com/were_back  – and has been awarded VisitEngland’s We’re Good to Go industry standard mark, signifying adherence to government and public health guidance.

On a knife edge: Simon Slater in Bloodshot, playing the SJT from October 21 to 24

“Everything will pay proper heed to social distancing, for both the audience and for our staff and performers,” says Robinson. “The seating capacity in The Round will vary from show to show but the socially distanced maximum will be 185.”

All the autumn and winter events will be added to the SJT website shortly; booking will open for Circle members from September 8 and for general sales from September 11. 

To book, visit sjt.uk.com/whatson or call the box office on 01723 370541. The box office is open Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for both phone calls and in-person bookings.

HULL Truck Theatre will reopen with the Hull Jazz Festival from November 12 and a seating capacity reduced to 20 to 30 per cent, but The Railway Children will not go ahead.

A statement from the Ferensway theatre announces: “The Hull Jazz Festival is a key part of our autumn season and we are really pleased that after eight months of closure, we are able to work with long-term partners J-Night to open the building with their exciting programme. Audience capacity will be smaller as we adhere to social distancing, but the programme and experience will still be the same great quality.”

York playwright Mike Kenny’s The Railway Children will be back on track in December 2021 after being de-railed from its 2020 Hull Truck Theatre Christmas run by the Covid curse

However, the theatre bosses have had to make the “difficult decision” to postpone the 2020 Christmas production of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children, scripted by York playwright Mike Kenny in a re-visit of his award-winning adaptation for York Theatre Royal at the National Railway Museum (2008/2009) and Waterloo Station, London (2010).

“The creation of one of our Christmas shows usually begins in August but without an announced date from the Government on when theatre performances can resume without social distancing, a show of this scale would not be economically viable,” the Hull Truck statement reads.

“The Railway Children will be postponed until Christmas 2021 and all tickets will be automatically transferred into the equivalent date, time and original seat selection. We will be contacting all customers with details of their ticket transfer and, with our reduced team, we ask that customers do not contact the box office at this time.”

The statement continues: “While we may not be able to do something in our auditorium on the scale of The Railway Children, we remain committed to creating magical Christmas experiences for our audiences and are delighted to announce we will be producing an alternative show for 2020.”

The new show will be a promenade production of Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker that will enable audiences to enjoy a festive adventure within small groups and under social-distancing measures as they move through the theatre.

“We are very excited to have a reopening date,” says Hull Truck Theatre artistic director Mark Babych

What lies in store? Every year on Christmas Eve, Prince Charming – soon to be King and deluded Crooner – celebrates the festive season with an annual knees-up:  the Christmas Cracker. This year, a big announcement is imminent and you are all invited.

Further details and on-sale dates for Hull Jazz Festival and Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker will be announced in September, alongside up-to-date information on how Hull Truck is being made a safe place to visit within Government guidelines.

Announcements on the updated January to March 2021 season will be made later in the autumn, once Hull Truck has more information regarding social-distancing guidelines.

“We are dependent on Government advice on social distancing regarding the ability to stage productions and therefore whether they are financially viable,” the statement emphasises.

Artistic director Mark Babych and his joint chief executive officer, Janthi Mills-Ward, say: “We are very excited to have a reopening date to bring alive our wonderful theatre again. We will obviously be operating at a much-reduced capacity – 20 to 30 per cent – while social distancing is in place, which makes re-opening a difficult financial jigsaw of what and how we present work.

Truck on: Hull Truck Theatre’s main auditorium, reopening from November 12

“But with meticulous planning to ensure the theatre is a safe place and innovative ideas for a programme that is possible with social distancing, we look forward to sharing the joy of live theatre again.”

They continue: “Part of this will be doing Christmas differently this year, which presents lots of creative challenges for the Hull Truck team to work on together, as well as opportunities for freelance artists. 

“Our vision is to create a joyful, fun and uplifting production that takes audiences on an exciting journey through the theatre and we are sure this show is going to be just what we all need to get us in the Christmas spirit after a difficult year!”

Please note, Hull Truck “asks for your patience and kindness at this time as the box-office team work to contact all customers who have booked for The Railway Children”.

Socially distanced encounter of the theatrical kind….

John Godber, pictured in Hull Truck Theatre days

“BUMPED” into Britain’s second most performed living playwright, John Godber, as our paths crossed while stretching a leg at Pocklington Canal this afternoon.

“Must be plenty of material for a play about Covid-19, John?”, I mused.

“No comedy there, Charles.”

The end.