Writer: John Godber
Director: John Godber
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
In a programme interview John Godber refers to Alan Ayckbourn saying that, just when you think, “That’s it, I’ve written enough”, another idea comes into your head. To maintain inspiration Godber has often mined his own family experience, next January’s production of The Empty Nesters’ Club a case in point, and he does it again in This Might Hurt, the latest production of the John Godber Company. But this play is far from typical Godber – and, incidentally, is a much better play than The Empty Nesters’ Club was in its try-out in Beverley as work in progress.
Ironically, what helps This Might Hurt work as a play and stills the chuckles to a rapt silence in the later stages, is that Godber does less to take it away from its source material. Robert Angell assures us at the start that everything actually happened – and we believe him – it’s never easy to disbelieve Rob Angell! At the end, he finishes by saying that he wishes this was only a play.
Much of the play is essentially a narrative monologue by Jack (Robert Angell), a pretty successful actor who did a stint on Casualty years ago, cue for a nicely varied running gag. His only relative at hishome in Hull is his Aunty Bet and the play is the story of the NHS’s response to two potentially fatal illnesses. Jack’s back pains turn out to be the sign of a pulmonary embolism and, despite one or two comically confused doctors, the health service emerges with flying colours. Act 1 is often comic and positive in tone, with Godber reserving his big guns for the absurdity of desperately ill hospital patients “getting a bit of fresh air” by smoking in the hospital doorway.
Act 2 is quite different, the story of Aunt Bet and her fatal cancer: Jack tells us in the opening minutes of the play that it will be the story of her last days, so there is no tension, simply a growing horror at the lack of care and communication. Jack and his aunt are surrounded by well-intentioned people in a dysfunctional system, hampered by (it seems) more rules about what they can’t do than what they must do. In the later stages, Godber switches to rhyming verse which heightens the sense of tragedy in a powerful final scene with Jack and the carers, which goes on just a trifle too long.
Robert Angell is one of those actors (and we are lucky to have several who are Yorkshire-based) who never seems to do anything specialbut totally convincing – as Jack’s indomitable aunt as well as the man himself. Remarkably the other 29 characters are played by Rachael Abbey and Josie Morley who both toured libraries with the original version of the play. Both are sharp and on the button, making the most of the extended scenes for them as a pair (the smoking patients or the helpless carers) and enjoying the odd canny characterisation such as Morley’s Polish doctor.
Foxton’s functional set is well suited to a tour of 17 venues, sometimes one-nighters in halls not fully equipped for thetheatre.
Touring nationwide | Image:Amy Charles Media