Weekend Breaks is a rather unassuming play, but a good choice for the second tour of the John Godber Company, the first to originate at its base, Wakefield Theatre Royal. First performed in 1997, it is one of the less frequently toured of John Godber’s massive output and has a freshness that some of the more familiar plays may lack. A little updating presents it as a retrospective from 2012 – which also enables Robert Hudson, narrating events past, to get away with playing a part much younger than himself!
Martin Dawson’s situation in many respects reflects that of the author as a young man: son of a miner, with a doctorate in Literature, employed in education, with a career in the performing arts opening up. In this case he is an aspiring film-writer, but by the time of his narration a successful stand-up comedian. In the main story his parents come to visit him in Whitby where he is writing a script, separated from his artistic and painfully snobbish wife in a marriage crisis. There is the predictable generational conflict, but from this the play deepens and touches on some very painful subjects: When we say, “I could kill them”, is that what we mean? And, if we did, would that be a bad thing?
Martin’s stand-up act at first appears simply as a framing device for past events, but proves to be what we are actually watching in the theatre – with much dramatisation of events, of course! He is one of those rambling, storytelling, “everything happens to me” comedians and Robert Hudson links the play effectively, underplaying believably while relishing the occasional opportunities for exaggeration and fun, such as playing the incomprehensible Spanish doctor. William Ilkley and Christine Cox as his parents are totally convincing and frequently funny: familiar types, clinging to the known, she with a never-ending list of “don’t likes”, he her long-suffering partner, but with hidden depths.
John Godber directs with an eye to simplicity: for large stretches of Act 1 nobody moves, but it holds the audience thanks to the authenticity of the dialogue. Pip Leckenby’s designs feature a stylish image of Whitby, but costumes, props and furniture (little more than two chairs) are of the simplest. It’s always an enjoyable evening, by the end surprisingly thought-provoking, and there is a real sense of the new company becoming established.