You pretty much know what you're going to get with a John Godber play. His pen may be a prolific one, but it very often moves in familiar patterns. So the thought of a Godber musical, the playwright's first, upsets the apple cart a little.
Thick as a Brick, a comedy that comments on education, is a return to a subject that Godber has both first hand knowledge of (he was a teacher) and has written about previously (Weekend Breaks, Teechers etc.). But they always say you should write about what you know, and in this instance, in what is without doubt Godber's finest effort since his crowning glory Bouncers, it has paid off.
Common Road High is the problem school where Mary Clifford (Gilly Tompkins) is making her ill-advised return to drama teaching. Not only is she cursed with a st..st..stammer but also a headmaster (Dicken Ashworth) who can't see the benefit of teaching the arts when the school has a successful basketball team. Miss Clifford proves her (and Godber's) point that arts education makes you think and feel by encouraging and inspiring her three misunderstood pupils Stacey (Lyanne Compton), Kerry (Jo Theaker) and Maggie (Sally Carman), as well as Stacey's protective, curry loving father Jimmy (an uneducated man, played by Gordon Kane, who used to think chapati's were for wiping your hands and face on).
While Godber raises polemical points about OFSTED, the national curriculum and uninspiring teachers, he raises far more laughs in the process, all aided and abetted by a cast with the kind of timing that Tag Heur would kill for. As for the man's song lyrics (additional lyrics by Jane Thornton, music by regular Alan Ayckbourn collaborator John Pattison), they may be full of clumsy, clunky rhymes but, like his usual wordsmithery, they lack pretension and pomposity. They're workmanlike - no doubt Godber would say working class - in any case they work bloody well. Compton, Theaker and the brilliantly funny Carman get to show off both their singing and dancing talents, with Lucy Cullingford's choreography slotting well into the piece.
This is not a blistering diversification for Godber, although it is the first time in a while that he s stretched his talents. While much of Godber's humour and dialogue is stolen lock and stock from local hostelries and corner shops, this is the funniest piece, by any writer, I ve seen in a long, long time. And for once it's original; who else would suggest a kebab was a metaphor for how you feel at the end of the night - all scabby and falling apart? So, a true return to form, straight to the top of the class.
At Hull Truck Theatre until 22 May, prior to national tour.