Corrie soap bad lad Nigel Pivaro reports back for stage duty in The Commitments after turning his hand to journalism

Nigel Pivaro: Returning to the stage after a long hiatus when journalism became his primary career

AFTER switching to the fourth estate for a decade and more, Coronation Street bad lad Nigel Pivaro is putting down the notepad to star in the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments.

“I’m thrilled to be marking my return to the stage in this production,” he says, ahead of visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from November 7 to 12 in the role of Jimmy Rabbitte’s Da in the Irish musical.

“It’s an iconic story that resonates across the years, about people who, though distant from the music’s origins, find communion and expression in the Motown style. A musical genre which was borne out of oppression and which the characters embrace as their own. The Motown Sound is as vibrant today as it was when it first burst through in the Sixties.”

Thirty-five years have passed since The Commitments first leapt from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel with its story of the hardest-working and most explosive soul band from the northside of Dublin,

The 1991 film and a stage musical ensued. Now comes the latest nine-month British and Irish tour, running from next month to July, directed by Andrew Linnie, who played Dean, the saxophonist, in the original West End production in 2013.

The headline news in his cast list is Pivaro’s stage return at 62. “It came about from [playwright] Jim Cartwright saying, ‘how about coming back in? We miss you, mate,’” says Nigel, who forever will be best known for playing lovable Corrie rogue Terry Duckworth from 1983 to 2012.

“After Jim said that, I started doing some plays for BBC Radio 4, like The Corrupted with Toby Jones, and some commercials, and then the role of Da was offered to me two and a half years ago. I was chomping at the bit: the chance to stretch my theatre legs again in my first theatre role since Bouncers [in 2003].

“But then the first Covid lockdown stopped it for a year, and then more lockdowns put it back another year. Just great! It had been a bit of a slow start for me getting back in, then just as it was gaining momentum, something extraordinary scuppered it.”

Roll on to autumn 2022 for Pivaro’s first appearance at the Grand Opera House since September 2003, when his hot-headed doorman Judd clashed with a fellow soap bad boy, EastEnders’ John Altman’s pontificating yet pugilistic Lucky Eric in John Godber’s nightclub comedy Bouncers.

“I was away from the business for 15 years after that, training as a journalist after doing a Masters degree in International Relations,” recalls Nigel. “I did my NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists) course in Liverpool, my work experience at the Manchester Evening News, and my first staff job was at the Tameside Reporter.”

Freelance reporting ensued for the Daily Star, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily and Sunday Express, and not least Jane’s Defence and Intelligence Review, reporting on military and security topics.

The poster for the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments, announcing Coronation Street legend Nigel Pivaro as the star attraction

“I travelled to Ukraine in the first war in 2014 and did three tours there,” says Nigel. “So I did my journalism from the bottom up, pushing my specialist knowledge into my reporting.

“Over the years, I’ve done everything from interviewing ex-Corrie colleagues and stars from other shows to doing research for a Newsnight feature last year on the shortcomings of the Manchester police.”

Hold the front page, Pivaro has a musical to perform in a new commitment to the stage. “I did see The Commitments film, attracted to it by the music, not knowing what to expect, other than it was an Alan Parker movie, and I’d always liked him as a director,” he says.

“I was just knocked out by how the music and the story were woven together, when often musicals are, ‘right, let’s do another song now’. The Commitments has a strong narrative, with the music weaved into that story without it kicking you in the face.”

Pivaro has read Doyle’s book too, “but I’ve not seen the play, so I’ve got no preconceptions about the stage show,” he says.

“What I can say is there’s dramatic tension, there’s humour, and there’s music. What’s not to like?! There’s a big band with loads of characters, sexy girls, sexy boys, with all that tension that can happen between band members, even in a band on the back streets of Dublin, as much as between John, Paul, George and Ringo.”

For sure, the show will feature such soul staples as Try A Little Tenderness, In The Midnight Hour, Save Me, Mustang Sally, I Heard It Through The Grapevine and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

“This is the music that has provided the soundtrack to our lives, as hits in the Sixties and Seventies, and then being re-played and re-played at weddings and funerals and parties ever since. They are the standards,” says Nigel, who admits to having preferred Sweet, Mud and Gary Glitter, “anything that harked back to rock’n’roll”, in his youth.

Will he be singing in the show? “No, I don’t think I get to sing a song, but Jimmy’s Da is a big Elvis fan, so I do get to do a few bars of Can’t Help Falling In Love, but that’s it,” he says.

The Irish accent will be key too. “I’ve done accents all over the place. That’s my job!” he says. “There are certain accents you find you can do off pat, like Liverpool, being a Manchester kid. This Dublin accent had better be there because we have two weeks there at the Olympia!”

Tickets for the York run: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York. For Hull New Theatre’s October 31 to November 5 run: 01482 300306 or hulltheatres.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Corrie bad lad Nigel Pivaro to star in The Commitments at Grand Opera House

Nigel Pivaro: Committing to The Commitments for nine months

CORONATION Street legend Nigel Pivaro will play Da in the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from November 7 to 12.

“I’m thrilled to be marking my return to the stage in this production,” he says. “It’s an iconic story that resonates across the years, about people who, though distant from the music’s origins, find communion and expression in the Motown style.

“A musical genre which was borne out of oppression and which the characters embrace as their own. The Motown Sound is as vibrant today as it was when it first burst through in the Sixties.”

Thirty-five years have passed since The Commitments first leapt from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel with its story of the hardest-working and most explosive soul band from the northside of Dublin.

Now comes a new stage production that will kick off a nine-month British and Irish tour in Bromley in September and run until July next summer, taking in more Yorkshire runs at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from October 17 to 2022 and Hull New Theatre from October 31 to November 5.

Doyle says: “I’m delighted that The Commitments are coming back in 2022 and 2023 and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Nigel Pivaro tackles the part of Jimmy Rabbitte’s Da.”

Pivaro, 62, who played lovable Corrie rogue Terry Duckworth from 1983 to 2012, will be directed by Andrew Linnie, whose West End debut came in the original production in 2013, playing the role of Dean, the band’s sax player. Linnie later starred in the lead role of Jimmy Rabbitte in the 2016/2017 UK tour.

Joining the cast as Deco will be Olivier Award nominee Ian McIntosh, no stranger to this role, having previously played Alternate Deco during the original West End run. His past credits include Galileo in the UK tour of We Will Rock You, Sid Worley in An Officer And A Gentleman and Barry in Beautiful – The Carole King, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in the Oliviers.

Further roles will go to James Killeen as Jimmy; Stuart Reid as Joey; Ciara Mackey, Imelda; Michael Mahony, Outspan; Ryan Kelly, Billy; Conor Litten, Dean; Guy Freeman, Derek; Stephen O’Riain, James; Ronnie Yorke, Mickah; Eve Kitchingman, Natalie, and Sarah Gardiner, Bernie.

Maryann Lynch, Alice Croft, James Deegan, Callum Martin, Joshua Barton, Ed Thorpe and Colm Gleeson will make up the ensemble.

Pivaro last appeared at the Grand Opera House in September 2003 in the role of hot-headed Judd in John Godber’s nightclub comedy Bouncers in a face-off with fellow soap bad boy, EastEnders’ John Altman, who played the pontificating yet pugilistic Lucky Eric.

His earlier roles in York were in Attempt To Kill, in 1988, and A Taste Of Honey, in 1989, both at the Theatre Royal; Steven Berkoff’s Greek, in 1993, at York Arts Centre, and as slimy talent agent Ray Say in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, in May 2000, at the Grand Opera House.

York tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York; Shefield, 0114 249 6000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk; Hull, 01482 300306 or hulltheatres.co.uk.

A past production of The Commitments. Picture: Johan Persson

Back story of The Commitments

THE musical has been adapted from the novel by Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, showcasing more than 20 soul classics performed live on stage.

Among them are Night Train; Try A Little Tenderness; River Deep, Mountain High; In The Midnight Hour; Papa Was A Rolling Stone; Save Me; Mustang Sally; I Heard It Through The Grapevine; Thin Line Between Love and Hate; Reach Out (I’ll Be There); Uptight; Knock On Wood and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

The Commitments tells the story of young, working-class music fan Jimmy Rabbitte, who transforms an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act that becomes the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced.

Placing a classified advert in a music paper, Jimmy auditions a haphazard heap of wannabes before finalising the members of his new band, which he names The Commitments.

Humour kicks in as the band get to know each other and their instruments, grappling with inter-group differences when muddling their way through early rehearsals for the first gig. Just as they improve and begin to gain a name for themselves, they combust.

The backing singers are more interested in the middle-aged, horn-playing legend; the singer has entered Eurovision; the drummer has walked out mid-gig and the saxophone player has dangerous leanings towards a jazz career. How will it end?

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.

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/