Writer: John Godber
Director: Oliver Hume
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Since its inception in 1994, over 4000 people have become millionaires courtesy of the National Lottery. Many of us enter each week dreaming of what we might do with such life-changing sums. But history also tells us that money doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. Lucky Sods, originally set in the early days of the lottery, looks at one couple’s response to their big win.
If that sounds terribly worthy, then fear not: John Godber’s script is full of humour and well-observed natural dialogue and the cast of four deliver the laughs consistently. The central couple is comprised of Morris (Liam Alexandru) and Jean (Hayley Grainger), a couple of northerners in their early forties. The play opens with them bickering good-naturedly in their small home. What becomes immediately clear is that theirs is a marriage built on love – Morris says his luckiest day was marrying Jean – although there are obviously stress points within it. Morris used to play drums in a small-time band with Connie, an old flame whose name still causes Jean distress and, well, there’s something in the background always threatening to raise its head, something that must have happened around six years ago. It’s certainly had an impact on their marriage and on Morris in particular, leaving him crippled with superstition and making him unable to drive the car that has stood in their garage all that time.
And when Jean does win the lottery jackpot – multiple times – Morris becomes more introspective, fretting over every penny spent and becomes obsessed with the concept that good and bad events somehow contrive to cancel each other out in some sort of malicious cosmic seesaw. And what of their family and neighbours? Their win fuels resentment with Jean’s sister, Annie, and her newly unemployed husband, Norman, especially when, after Morris and Jean have enjoyed a dream holiday in California and Europe, their Christmas gifts to Annie and Norman are modest in the extreme. Soap on a Rope, anyone?
The stress on the marriage begins to show as their attitudes to their wins harden. Morris briefly escapes for a fling with Connie and other karmic tragedies occur.
Oliver Hume’s direction focuses squarely on the humour, with Darren Haywood as Norman (and every other male character apart from Morris) mugging his way through with exaggerated eye-rolling camp. Haywood is a natural comedian and is in his element, delivering every line to perfection. Hayley Grainger as Jean turns in a striking and sober performance. She is entirely believable. Also holding her own comedically, her distress when she realises that Morris is unlikely to return and her grand new home is just a shell is exquisite.
Hannah Fretwell does sterling work as Annie, providing the comedic foil to Haywood’s Norman as well as the calculating Connie with whom Morris seeks, unsuccessfully, of course, to escape his demons. Less convincing, however, is Liam Alexandru’s Morris who is rather more two-dimensional. While the other cast members converse in decent, if occasionally caricatured, northern accents, local actor Alexandru’s accent is overwhelmingly midland in origin despite the dialogue making it clear that he too is a northerner, loving his past unassuming holidays in ‘Brid’.
The set is simple, evidencing the budgetary constraints that under which small venues labour. It is crudely decorated with images of lottery balls and so is able to provide the backdrop to the many locations the play demands. However, small tweaks in blackness do seem to interrupt the flow and one can’t help but wonder if even this fairly minimalist set could be further simplified or even dispensed with. And Morris’ hi-vis jacket that he wears as a security guard carries Blue Orange Theatre branding – a small detail but an anachronism that jars.
While there is undoubtedly something in the characters’ pasts, Hume’s direction seems to gloss over it and one could be forgiven for completely missing the potentially show-stopping reveal of the backstory to these events so that what could be an achingly bittersweet comedy becomes more farcical. And as a farce, it is largely successful with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but one can’t help feeling that Godber’s script has more to offer.
As an entertaining evening out, this latest offering from the team at Blue Orange delivers, but it doesn’t deliver its potential to be more rounded and poignant.
Runs until 13 May 2017 | Image: Contributed