Godber’s programme note spells it out clearly: the location of a caravan site creates “the opportunity to explore characters living side by side who perhaps normally wouldn’t”. Ron, having taken early retirement as a headteacher because of stress, finds himself in a caravan near Scarborough with Yvonne, his Oxford-educated, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-singing snob of a wife. Low-key squabbles feature in their early scenes, punctuated by neat, “birdsong-at-eventide” music from John Pattison.
Then Grant and Steph erupt on the scene, the “Grunts”, common as muck and twice as mucky, in the adjacent caravan, announcing themselves by their high-volume sexual activity. How will the two couples interact? For the Big Brother House, read the Clifftop Caravan Site.
The plot unfolds via trips to see male strippers or join in a talent contest, via Ron’s inability to do anything practical and Grant’s filthy habits, as the middle-class characters take it in turns to find the Grunts “all right really” and condemn them as animals. Besides the fairly obvious verbal and visual humour, the play generates a nice line in irony and the occasional role reversal.
Unfortunately, only Ron and Yvonne are given much emotional and personal hinterland. They change and learn as well as being revealed as pretty shabby characters; until the last few minutes of the play the Grunts are just there, seen from the middle-class perspective. Even as the moral balance shifts, the patronising tone Ron and Yvonne adopt towards their neighbours hangs over the whole play.
Julie Higginson convinces as the buttoned-down, marathon-training, dominant wife, James Hornsby as the ineffective husband who finds opting out the best solution for life’s batterings. Somehow Kate Baines and Adrian Hood build sympathy for their initially repellent characters, Hood remarkably so in the case of the mountainous Grant, a composite of unbridled appetites, body odours and the conviction that women need to be treated like his bull terriers.
As in any John Godber production, the four play off each other effectively as a coherent ensemble. Designer Pip Leckenby, freed from the constraints of the home theatre, takes full advantage of the larger on-tour stages to create an attractive set that mirrors the social gulf between the characters.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Wakefield)