Writer and Director: John Godber
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
A revamped, specially written version of John Godber’s 2014 one-woman show is a blast of artful, emotional storytelling that leaves you feeling both educated and ignorant at the same time.
It tells Holly Parker’s story from birth and early family years, through her tough council estate teens in Hull and eventual escape to London for university before she is forced to return home to her over-protective dad and all too “real” life. It’s a powerfully written cry of frustration about an existence that feels unrewarding for the amount of effort put in, for the loneliness that one can feel even when in crowds, and for a social system that fails to support a society.
Using some clever, and some unsubtle, devices the play builds layer on layer to develop a rich picture. With four actors in this version, the two-character small family unit expands and their world is built out with neighbours and classmates, more are added when London opens up to Holly, and all have a clear identity in themselves, and as a purpose in the story.
Her father, played by Jamie Smelt, is a fine vehicle for exploring change and motivation over the course of several years – we find ourselves sympathising with him for wanting to protect and care for his daughter when his wife ran away, which turns uncomfortable when we realise in the second act we’re on the side of someone who has grown hard and intolerant. As a sneering, strong-willed teen, Holly (played by Martha Godber) is fun to watch, a persona familiar from everyone’s teenage years. Her evolution to sensitive and sensible, outraged and vulnerable young woman is one we can all follow too. The writing’s neatest twist is placing the audience simultaneously on the side of father and daughter, even as they oppose each other in the play’s crucial moments.
The writing relies a little too much on the audience’s power of nostalgia and memory for the era covered – Princess Diana’s death, Tellytubbies launching, Madeleine McCann disappearance. It feels like it’s trying to make its point too forcefully, setting these moments in conflict with the artfully constructed personal narratives for the main characters of Holly and her Dad.
A sparse set, common in Wilton’s, amplifies the loneliness message – providing a hard acoustic backing to the singing and music on stage so it sounds thin, even with four people making noise. Graham Krik’s design has an intriguing element – large illuminated L, V, E letters. We muse about what it’s trying to say – “Love” or “Leave”?
It may sound silly to say, but it’s also excellent to hear the vowels and strength of a regional accent on stage. Hull itself is a character in this play, and hearing it so resonantly represented is a joy.
The play’s strength comes from sharp writing and strong central themes that offer insight, not just information about a key section of society that too often today is used as a lazy shorthand, rather than soberly portrayed in art. Without bells, whistles or airs, this is great storytelling.
Runs until 5 October 2019 | Image: Contributed