It has to be good news for theatre in Yorkshire (and further afield) that John Godber has his own company up and running so soon after his inexplicable (until someone explains it) departure from Hull Truck. It is equally good news that Wakefield Theatre Royal is finding more of a role as a producing house, though, unfortunately, for this first joint production, it proved impossible to premiere it in Wakefield. Coming to York Theatre Royal in the second week of a 15-venue tour, following a sell-out week at the New Vic in Newcastle-under- Lyme, on Press Night The Debt Collectors played to a sizeable and very enthusiastic audience.
The play itself is a pleasant diversion, well observed, well acted, but pretty slight. The main plot is two out-of-work actors’ adventures in the debt collecting trade, but it is rather subtler and more neatly planned than that. Initially Spud and Loz are trying to reclaim a debt owed by the theatre where their final tour ended, then this spins off into the play Loz would create of their adventures – a useful device as his narration can maintain pace and cover those parts of the story where two actors would be too few! And, rather than transform them into the best (or worst) of debt collectors, Godber more convincingly treats his characters as failed actors still hoping for a break.
The play has plenty of variety, with Rob Hudson and William Ilkley occasionally having fun taking on the roles of the “customers”, and shifts from fairly broad comedy to verbal double-act to serious comment on the causes of debt to the agonies of the characters’ private lives. But rather too much of it is simply two chaps talking, amusingly, but to no great purpose, and the serious comment goes little further than citing cases which John Godber has already reported in the programme.
William Ilkley as Loz, the cooler, more respectable of the two, is, as ever, a pleasure to watch, seamlessly switching tone and showing excellent comic timing. Rob Hudson as the more volatile Spud, still trying to milk the plaudits for his years on The Bill, completes a nicely balanced duo.
John Godber’s production uses the space of the temporary “in the round” stage at the Theatre Royal imaginatively and fluently and Pip Leckenby’s design (a theatre stage full of discarded props and flats) cunningly contains the necessities to act out their debt collecting adventures. The creative team, like the actors, consists of Hull Truckers, with Leckenby, Graham Kirk (lights/set build) and Stuart Briner (music – sometimes over-dramatic for the events, deliberately so, I’m sure).
Whatever limitations The Debt Collectors may have, the promise it shows for the twice-yearly John Godber Company/Theatre Royal Wakefield tours will be welcomed by everyone with an interest in the health of theatre in Yorkshire.