On its first outing in Edinburgh last year, Unleashed, the latest of John Godber's works, was welcomed with less than open arms. Wide spread criticism at the time even prompted Godber, the author of perennial theatre favourite Bouncers, to make some widely reported comments in the Times newspaper - he couldn't understand why audiences laughed at some plays but not at others, why some shows were hits but others missed. Lazy was a word used in relation to Godber's tale of office workers getting away for a weekend in Amsterdam, the main premise of Unleashed. Now, some months on from the play's original incarnation, the covers have come off to reveal a show that has had some hard work lavished upon it.
Unleashed '99 style now appears to be one of Godber's more interesting works, a play with a polemical thrust that takes a long hard look at male sexuality. Beyond the laughs, and there are quite a few, what we get is a rather unpleasant portrayal of man as the beast we all know he is.
Handed the responsibility of showing man in this bad, albeit red, light are Zach Lee (Kev/Gary), William Ilkley, (Tom/Bob), and Nick Lane (Dennis/Mick). Amidst the swearing and shagging bravado of Godber's repulsive males are the women in their lives, portrayed by Joanne Jollie (Natasha/Jennie) and Helen Pearson (Tish/Anabelle). Whatever the guise of the female characters they are, it appears, used by men.
Godber's oft used trick of performers handling multiple parts ensures that the play moves at a rapid pace and the first act offers very little in the way of respite amid scene changes and back and forth dialogue exchanges. The second act starts in much the same vein before eventually giving way to the play's moral message.
Taken at face value, this is a piece of theatre for the lads although one assumes that they'll miss the real point - the sad reflection of their own lives - because they're too busy gawping at Pearson and Jollie. It's rare to see such a frank portrayal of masculinity as the one Godber gives here.
So, as the old adage has it, if at first you don't succeed then try, try again. Unleashed is a show that's undergone a worthwhile salvage operation.
at Hull Truck until 13th Feb then on national tour until 15 May
Note: The following review dates from Unleashed's original try-out at the Edinburgh Fringe 1998.
Wives who have husbands whose work sometimes calls them away on business trips will not want to see the latest play from John Godber, the prolific playwright and chronicler of 'real British people'.
Barry, Darren, Geoff and Dennis are four be-suited, middle-aged men who are really Loaded readers at heart. After a day at a tedious conference in Amsterdam, they seek some light relief and titillation in the city's notorious red light district. It's all just innocent fun until boss Barry disappears with a prostitute. Soon, they're all egging one another on to forget about girlfriends, wives and familial responsibilities back home and indulge in a good mindless shag.
Mindless being the operative word here. The issue at hand is pretty straightforward - is infidelity really so horrible when the success of a lad's night out is at stake? - and yet the arguments and submissions to peer pressure are far too protracted in Godber's script.
To give him his due, the piece does start well enough - lots of capture-the-era modern references and some great one-liners. But the laughs and novelties peter out after about the first 20 minutes. What we're left with is only the question as to how fast and how far these thoroughly unsympathetic characters will sink in the name of sexual fulfilment. Oh yeah, and an ending that doesn't pack a pinch, much less a punch.
The conclusion seems to be that boys will be boys, and that infidelity ain't really all the fun it's cracked up to be - joke's on you, mate. Save your money, the punchline's just not funny.