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Review: Weekend Breaks @ Barton Marina

There’s a play here trying to get out and the good news is Elle Knight’s Intimate Theatre ably assists its birth pangs. John Godber’s a funny writer, amazingly successful but so often his plays disappoint by lacking crucial development. Here he’s obviously afraid his public will bolt if confronted with anything that looks as if it might be, God forbid, serious or deep, as if people who have taken the trouble to go all the way to a theatre can’t cope with an entertainment that has any meaning at all. But audiences aren’t really all thick, John.

So here the word b*ll*cks gets a laugh, and people have a s**t over and over again. Actually he’s quite safe. We know he’s no Oscar Wilde. But it’s as if he’s saying, it’s all right, it’s not about anything, you’re perfectly safe, it’s just entertainment. But if you have taken the trouble to go all the way to a theatre, I think you do have a right to expect it might possibly be about something. And surprisingly, despite every attempt to subvert its appearance here, it is.

Because John Godber is having a hard time coming to terms with his working-class roots and in particular with his unreconstructed working-class parents. A boy who has gone on to academia and the world of the arts might well have a hard time – but has it really been as hard as all that, for him, or for anyone? His alter-ego Martin, played by the excellent Chris Stanley who in my opinion could easily turn professional hates his stuck-in-the-mud mum and dad so much he contemplates killing them.

And he does have a point – his mother is one of those women who exists simply to complain. His dad is  – well – just another weak, working class man who Godber obviously, secretly, despises. Martin of course is a lecturer and (could this possibly be autobiographical?) a wannabe writer – of screenplays – does Godber long to be successful screen writer Willy Russell, I wonder. Or Alan Bennet? Whatever, Godber has unresolved issues – and here he seems to be saying Real People – i.e. not Rich People – are Common – but Real. Everyone else has…what? Sold Out? By being Successful – like him – and getting rich – and despising their  parents – and losing their roots – and now wishing them dead. It’s a tangled and ultimately unsatisfying web.

This awful need is resolved only by Martin leaving academia (but what about the pension?) and becoming a stand up comic, a fudged ending, and one this successful playwright hasn’t (except metaphorically, of course) embraced.

David Titley’s direction is seamlessly slick. As I’ve already said I loved Chris Stanleys’ epic journey, and Ken Knowles as the father coped well beyond the call of duty – I believed him! But new to me is Annette Phillips as the miserable, mealy-mouthed mother you’d love to finish off yourself. I would like to see her in a less one-dimensional role.

This play was written 13 years ago and frankly, modern life moves on fast. The parents enjoying their “common” holiday on the Costa del Sol would have a shock now – it’s an expensive millionaire’s playground. And that journey from the working class via education isn’t quite such a destructive journey as Godber seems to make it out – is he saying don’t go there yourself and thereby pulling up the ladder? Many people have made it without abandoning their families. Trust me. I know.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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