It seems to me that Hull Truck Theatre is rather too willing to tag plays as satirical and outrageous comedies, though I guess there’s no need for complaint if it helps to keep up healthy audience numbers in the new larger auditorium. To my mind Lucky Sods is neither outrageous nor a comedy, though certainly very funny at times. It is, to an extent, satirical, but with rather too much overt humanity for the true satirist.
John Godber’s play dates back to 1995, but this production toured the UK with a similar cast last year. At the interval it could indeed turn into an outrageous comedy. Morris and Jean, 23 years married (neither conspicuously happily nor desperately unhappily), bored and routine-bound, win £2 million on the Lottery. The following scenes could take us to farce or self-realisation. Morris visits his mother (apparently in a world of her own, but sharp as a tack) in hospital to tell her the news – very entertaining, if two-dimensional. Morris and Jean’s visit to Hollywood finds him ill at ease. Finally, their perceived meanness leads to a Christmas confrontation with Jean’s sister Annie.
However, Lucky Sods becomes a different play after the interval: less predictable, more humane and ultimately more satisfying. Morris and Jean take different courses, both seemingly using their wealth to gain personal happiness, both ultimately tragic. Pip Leckenby’s set indicates a shift away from naturalism: from serviceable, adaptable rooms in Act 1 to a pyramid of pounds and a stage nearly as empty as Waiting for Godot in Act 2.
It’s not the first time that John Godber has examined the transformative effects of “seeing the world” on a bleakly enclosed relationship, but, whereas < April in Paris admits at least the possibility of a positive transformation, Lucky Sods brings the characters back to their original failings and limitations in an ending compounded of tragedy and irony. In part the irony comes from the implied redefining of “lucky”; the word has come to mean “lucky enough to win a fortune”, irrespective of health and relationships.
This probably makes Lucky Sods sound a little too earnest: it is also a jolly entertainment, but one that increasingly quietens the Hull Truck audience, never slow to laugh, at key moments. Robert Hudson’s Morris goes a long way from the fat-man-on-sofa-in-vest (eating!) stereotype of the opening: ordinarily a normal decent enough chap, he finds the world a confusing place where the big decisions are always likely to be the wrong ones. Jacqueline Naylor is more dynamic as Jean, more intense, apparently more sophisticated and ready to adjust to the high life, but just as much a victim as Morris. Fiona Wass and James Weaver take a variety of parts, she rather over-strident as Annie, but splendidly self-possessed as femme fatale Connie, he perfectly gauche and well-intentioned as Annie’s husband Norman.
Given its opening in comic marital squabbling while checking the Lottery numbers, it’s rather surprising to find the ending of Lucky Sods both sad and touching.