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Poles Apart – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Writer: John Godber

Director: John Godber

Designer: Graham Kirk

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

 

The title of John Godber’s new play contains multiple puns. The main characters are scaffolders, working with poles, and one of them, a Pole, is inclined to show off his fitness and physique by a sort of pole dancing. However, the primary meaning provides a rather poignant message behind a lively entertainment.

The programme interview with John Godber makes the point that scaffolders and theatre people don’t like each other and states that “the working man doesn’t generally go to the theatre” – possibly true, but few people have done more than Godber to alter this state of affairs and it’s sad to find him writing a play which shows such hostility between the two camps. His claim that they “gain some kind of mutual respect for each other” is not really convincing: there is an unexpected plot twist and a neat happy-ish ending, but no real coming together between scaffolders and theatricals – they remain poles apart.

The story line is very simple. Three workmen have set up their scaffolding on the theatre stage to do a small job repairing a leak. The Executive Director of the theatre has not been informed of their intentions (they are several weeks late) and finds their presence, bad language and loud music disturbing. They squabble a bit, the workmen bully him, and he fetches tea. A fairly well known actress opening that night in a one-woman play provokes mixed reaction, from awe-struck wonder at meeting “’er off t’telly”, to amazement that anyone should stage a play where the cast remains fully clothed. Various delays, both deliberate and unavoidable, keep the scaffolders there much longer than planned and the gap between the two worlds is mercilessly set out.

The three scaffolders are played by actors highly experienced in Godber plays and all are perfectly attuned to his speech rhythms that, despite the occasional gymnastics on the scaffolding, contains quite a bit of blokes chatting about nothing in particular. Adrian Hood, as ever, is irresistibly funny as Pete, large and laconic, timing his repetitive speech patterns beautifully. Frazer Hammill’s Jan is neatly observed and never over-played; his self-contained confidence in sharp contrast to the strident complaints and underlying bitterness of the boss, Phil. Keith Hukin brings a bleak intensity to the part, with his contemptuous dismissal of everything he doesn’t understand and his resentment of his transformation from boxing champion to a socially inadequate insomniac.

Another veteran of many a Godber play, Rob Hudson gives Grahame, the theatre manager, sweaty unease and fragile dignity combined and brings conviction to his defence of life in the theatre. Ruby Thompson has the right manner for Abi, the television actress, but her contempt for the working classes who live like pigs (the phrase comes more than once) is more unpleasant than convincing. Even Grahame, a more sympathetic character, is moved by passion to a furious attack on the subhuman workers. What theatre people is Godber thinking of? Beyond doubt he himself would not entertain such thoughts.

Graham Kirk has designed and built a set that looks the part (scaffolding, stage curtains, miscellaneous furniture and props) and John Godber himself directs a production that always has a default position of humour even when dealing with provocative opinions or potential violence. The heightened naturalism that he does so well is there with the three workmen, but the theatricals are not always easy to take.

Runs until 19 September 2015

Writer: John Godber Director: John Godber Designer: Graham Kirk Reviewer: Ron Simpson   The title of John Godber’s new play contains multiple puns. The main characters are scaffolders, working with poles, and one of them, a Pole, is inclined to show off his fitness and physique by a sort of pole dancing. However, the primary meaning provides a rather poignant message behind a lively entertainment. The programme interview with John Godber makes the point that scaffolders and theatre people don’t like each other and states that “the working man doesn’t generally go to the theatre” – possibly true, but few…

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    As a very big fan of John Godber, I went to Wakefield on Saturday night to see Poles Apart and thought the audience were appreciative of the performance, however I don’t feel that this is one of his better works. Up to the break, it was slow and I know we have to set the characters, but I didn’t feel involved in the storyline. The second half was obviously the climax and far pacier. The cast where all great as usual and Wakefield Theatre is a fantastic venue.
    3/5*