Grand Opera House, York
Is John Godber too prolific for his own good? For years he has been grinding out plays with the mechanical regularity of a sausage machine, which would explain why Black Tie and Tales, Screaming Blue Murder and the dreadful Reunion had such a high breadcrumb content. However, I'm delighted to report that Godber is back on top form with his new play Going Dutch.
"Brits abroad" is of course a tried and trusted Godber theme (April in Paris, On the Piste). In Going Dutch he introduces us to two middle-aged couples on a ferry trip to Holland - Mark (James Hornsby), his wife Sally (Gemma Craven), their friend Gill (Jackie Lye) and her boyfriend Karl (Rob Hudson). Mark is celebrating his fiftieth birthday by treating himself to a Bruce Springsteen concert in Amsterdam, and he and Sally have invited their old friend Gill along for the ride. Unfortunately Gill takes it upon herself to bring her new boyfriend Karl, an ex-convict with a lurid past that includes working in a sex show. "You worked in a sex shop!" says the genteel Sally. "No, a sex SHOW," replies Karl; "a sex shop would have been boring".
The play revolves around the culture clash between Mark, a freelance composer, and the neanderthal Karl, a man so hard he refuses to buy Mark a glass of wine because "it's a twat's drink". Nasty, brutish, but - as befits an ex-roadie - not short, Karl seems to have been swept aboard from a production of Bouncers. His attraction for the feckless but university-educated Gill lies in his trousers, and the plot is further complicated by Mark's long-suppressed lust for Gill. There's enough material here for several plays but the plot never becomes top-heavy; as we follow the foursome from the tempest-tossed Pride of Hull to the forbidden delights of Amsterdam, the hilarious one-liners and toe-curlingly realistic vignettes of mid-life crises come thick and fast.
The performances are uniformly excellent, although poncy southerners may find themselves struggling to understand Rob Hudson's accent. Not content with playing Karl he also appears as a naff cabaret singer who alternates between performing Neil Diamond songs in the lounge and a Freddie Mercury tribute in the disco James Hornsby gives a nicely observed performance as Mark, a man poised uneasily between his working class origins and middle class aspirations. Jackie Lye manages to make Gill, the 47-year-old rock chick whose dress sense is almost as deplorable as her taste in men, surprisingly sympathetic. But the evening belongs to the marvellous Gemma Craven, whose best scene I am unable to describe without spoiling it for others. See the play for yourself, and be very careful what you eat in Amsterdam!
Finally, I can only marvel at how Hull Truck managed to obtain the sponsorship of P & O Ferries. The Pride of Hull is presented as a floating vomitorium with cramped cabins and the type of entertainment that can only be appreciated after five pints of lager. Did the good people at P & O actually read the script before the money changed hands, I wonder? There's a lesson here for all theatre companies in need of a few bob, and I hope to see the day when Vision Express announce their sponsorship of a new production of King Lear
"Going Dutch" plays at York until 29th January, and then tours to Scunthorpe, Blackpool, Middlesborough, Bolton, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Chelmsford, Epsom, Portsmouth, Leeds, Buxton, Sevenoaks, Aberystwyth, Cheltenham, Durham, Preston, Hull, Westcliff on Sea, Scarborough and Salford, where the tour will finish on 25th June.
Peter Lathan reviewed this production at the Gala Theatre, Furham.
Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson