September In The Rain
By John Godber
Mark Stratton as Jack and Una McNulty as Liz
© Ceri Oakes
Reviewer: Charles Hutchinson
JOHN Godber had a word of advice for Nick Lane when he was directing an earlier production of September In The Rain in the York Theatre Royal Studio. It's my favourite play. Don't muck it up", said the Upton playwright.
This 1984 two-hander is indeed one of Godber's finest works, perfect for a small-scale company such as Glaisdale's Esk Valley Theatre, who first staged it as their debut show in 2005and are now re-mounting it with Sheila Carter as director once more and artistic director Mark Stratton reprising his role as taciturn miner Jack.
Carter, Stratton and fellow cast member Una McNulty very definitely have not mucked it up, the key to this comic drama being the need to veer away from the stereotype of the nagging wife and the henpecked husband. Instead, Godber, director and cast combine to express the complexities of love that still bind Yorkshire couple Jack and Liz down the years, despite their flare-ups, fall-outs, frustrations and ultimately their fading light too.
Godber drew on his own mining family for his story of Jack and Liz's return to Blackpool every traditional mining holiday in September, from young love in an overheating Ford Anglia, to their raincoat old age on one final bus trip.
Graham Kirk's set of seafront railings and lamps, two chairs and two suitcases is so evocative, you can smell the sea air, apparently thicker in Blackpool, reckons Godber, so it does you good.
It is such details that mark out Godber at his humorous, observant best, brought to life by Stratton and McNulty's dovetailed acting prowess, with room for the viewer's imagination to play its part too.
Stratton has plenty on his plate in his directorial role at Esk Valley, - he will be directing this summer's production of Ben Brown's Larkin With Women at the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale from August 10 to September 2, - but he is always good value on his forays to the stage, and he is an ideal Jack. He makes him say so much in his few words, through both his physicality and a blunt way of talking, and while his Jack is stubborn, volatile and outwardly incapable of love's little touches, you sense how bereft he would be without Liz.
McNulty, a canny casting choice from her work with Hull Truck, the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Northern Broadsides, bonds delightfully with Stratton. She is both amusing and touching as the long-suffering Liz, Jack's polar opposite: chatty, wearing her heart on a sleeve, and looking for blue skies where he sees grey and black.
As the Godber plays pile up through the years, September In The Rain still stands out with its everyman truths in its salty seaside world of regular routine, smelly donkeys, The Student Prince matinee, B&Bs, pleasure beach rides and fish and chips on the front.
The Review Hub
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
For 12 years Esk Valley Theatre, in the persons of co-founders Mark Stratton and Sheila Carter, has brought high-quality small-cast theatre to the North York Moors by taking over Glaisdale's Robinson Institute for the month of August for its annual production. Now EVT has expanded its scale, in both time and place, with a March/April tour of nearly 20 North Yorkshire venues, mostly village halls, culminating in a sold-out week at York Theatre Royal's Studio Theatre.
September in the Rain is an ideal choice, from the practical point of view no less than the sentimental reason that this was the play that launched Esk Valley Theatre. A cast of two, with one part eminently suited to EVT Director Mark Stratton, and a minimal set are ideal for a tour taking in a different village hall each night. Graham Kirk's curving kerb, set with old-fashioned lamps, is enough, together with chairs and deck chairs as needed and supported by effective lighting and sound, to suggest a series of wet Septembers in Blackpool. Most importantly, the play still has the humanity and humour to appeal to most audiences - especially Yorkshire audiences, with its unashamed regionalism.
Liz and Jack, a married couple of indeterminate age, but no longer young - Jack has stopped driving long distances because of heart trouble - face out front and start to tell the audience their story. Or, rather, Liz does, Jack confining himself at first to monosyllables and protests against going into intimate detail. Over the years, in September (the Leger week holiday), often in the rain, they have holidayed in Blackpool, in various guest houses, travelling by coach or by car, on their own or with their children, quarrelling and making up.
Jack, belligerent when roused, most of the time just wants to be left in peace. Liz, edgier, by temperament, would value more signs of affection and, in the early years, has a tendency to let an initially trivial argument drive her to the brink of leaving Jack. Liz, determined to enjoy herself in the approved manner, pesters the peacefully reading Jack with demands to sunbathe or go paddling. Jack, unable to realise that he is the only one of the two obsessed with The Student Prince, embarrasses Liz by loudly telling her the story during the performance and then blubbing at the emotional bits. There are comical recollections of fellow boarding house guests, a minor accident at the Preston bottleneck (pre-M62) and the terrors of Blackpool Tower. Gradually a picture emerges, not complete, but convincing, of an enduring, but hardly trouble-free, relationship.
In Sheila Carter's economic production Una McNulty and Mark Stratton give truthfully understated performances, always alert to the possibility of comedy and occasionally slipping in neat cameos, mildly caricatured, of hotel guests and assorted Lancastrians.
In 2005 Sheila Carter and Mark Stratton were the founder members of the Esk Valley Theatre producing a play each year during the month of August in the Robinson Institute, Glaisdale. Their first production was September in the Rain with Mark playing the part of Jack and Mary Ryder playing his wife Liz. This year they have just begun a tour of the play with Una McNulty as Liz and Mark taking on the part once more of Jack.
I managed to see with the play at the Village Hall in Goathland where a delightful audience caught up with the holiday adventures of Jack and Liz. The play was first produced by John Godber in 1984 at Hull Truck Theatre and contains techniques and characteristics that he has shown throughout his professional writing turning his words into a northern art form. The play is based on his own family members in the 50's, nostalgic and sentimental even taking 'the last few breaths of Yorkshire air' before reaching the sign for Lancashire.
This is working class leisure long before package holidays to Spain. Liz and Jack a Yorkshire mine-worker relive their days in Blackpool each year in September. They put up with poor weather, unfriendly B& B accommodation, old decrepit donkeys but they tell their story with a true sense of belonging.
Some scenes are very intense as Liz becomes emotional and wants to leave not only Blackpool but Jack too. A trip up the Blackpool Tower and a scary ride on the Big Dipper seems to temporarily cure her anguish. Jack finds it difficult to show his emotions and prefers to be alone on the beach snoozing with his cornered handkerchief on his head and his trousers roled up. But he is moved to tears during the performance of The Student Prince and becomes the jealous husband when Liz teases him about the good looking waiter.
Mark Stratton and Una McNulty play out the drama with perfect ease dipping in and out of other characters as they tell their story whether they are bickering or laughing they show a great deal of affection for each other.
Sheila Carter directs the play on the very small stage fitting in suitcases and fun with decked chairs as well as lots of time for typical Godber humour.