On the Piste

John Godber
John Godber Company and Theatre Royal Wakefield
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme

The cast of On the Piste
Samantha Seager (Alison) and Roxanne Pallett (Bev)

Twenty-four years after John Godber’s On the Piste premièred at the old Derby Playhouse, the prolific playwright has re-worked the script for a second time.

In the 1990s, Godber could not put a foot wrong as far as Derby audiences were concerned. Not only did On the Piste take its first tentative steps in the Playhouse, it returned—twice—in 1992 after Godber had made changes.

Now it is coming to the end of a two-month tour, with the play having had another major re-write.

In the programme, Godber admits he was “never fully satisfied with the quality of the characterisation” and thought he could do better. Six characters from the original have been trimmed to five—gone is Melissa, the woman visiting the ski resort without her husband—and the piece now features two couples and a ski instructor. Any hint of political incorrectness has been taken out.

Also missing is the ski slope, which was an integral part of the first incarnation and illustrated how far the novice skiers had progressed since they first arrived.

We are left with two couples who initially are as truthful in their relationships as they are about their experience on the ski slopes. But, despite Godber’s assertion that he is much happier with the script, there are few characters about whom we really care.

The couples are from differing ends of the social scale and are thrown together on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. When one of the instructors is unable to fulfil her commitments, both couples have to take lessons from Tony. He likes his body and is intent on giving satisfaction après ski as well as on the slopes.

The first couple, Dave and Bev, are from a working-class background. In Godber’s latest version, Bev comes over as a shallow, garrulous airhead who could be straight out of a reality TV series. Dave plays along with her behaviour but turns out to be totally selfish.

Roxanne Pallett relishes playing accident-prone Bev who hates heights and spends most of her time walking like a monkey because skiing has made her stiff. Matthew Stathers gels well with her.

Any compassion is reserved for Chris (Peter McMillan) and Alison (Samantha Seager) whose long-term relationship has gone stale. Chris is reluctant to go to a party so Alison goes alone, gets drunk and has a one-night stand.

They have the best scene in the play, a poignant encounter when they realise their relationship is falling apart as their true feelings are revealed. McMillan also excels when he gets extremely hot in a sauna.

Tom Rooke plays Tony in a slightly understated way without too much bravado and stereotyping.

Godber himself directs and inserts a brand of comedy which often relies on timing. All five actors rise to the challenge.

But I could not help thinking that the play is disappointing compared with the 1990s version. The exhilaration that was evident then has to some extent evaporated like melting snow; On the Piste is good but not up to Godber’s usual excellent standard.

Reviewer: Steve Orme