|John Godber's Factfile|
Godber is best known as the brains behind the Hull Truck Theatre Company which he joined as Artistic Director in 1984. He's also produced some of the most popular stage plays of the last 20 years including 'Bouncers', 'Teechers' and 'Up 'n' Under', all of which draw on his Yorkshire roots.
A new TV programme called 'A Picture of Hull' explores John Godber's relationship with the city where he lives and works, and looks at how it has inspired his work over the last 20 years.
Godber's strongest link with Hull is through Hull Truck Theatre Company which he joined as Artistic Director in 1984.
|John Godber writing outdoors in Hull|
John came to the theatre at a time when it was struggling financially, and it was on the brink of closure. "I suppose I came with a mission which was to make theatre viable in traditionally what was a city that perhaps hadn't been able to make theatre work," he says. "My mission was to write plays that would attract people who perhaps weren't traditional theatre goers. I wanted to have as wide an audience as possible."
Godber transformed the traditional company into a local community theatre, performing plays which reflected ordinary people's lives, from bouncers and teachers to waitresses and coal-board workers. Since then the company has established itself as one of the best contemporary theatre groups in Britain, often performing Godber's own plays.
Voice of Hull
In some ways John Godber is 'the voice of Hull', and, although it sounds strange, many people in the city only go to see his plays. If Godber puts on a production of 'Julius Caesar' or 'Moby Dick' at Hull Truck Theatre, there are empty seats. But if he produces one of his own plays, there is guaranteed to be a packed house.
It's a sign that his work really connects with local audiences. Godber's work appeals across the board - he's loved by a very diverse audience, from bus drivers and barristers to dinner ladies and dockers. "The impulse to make theatre that speaks right across the board to all kinds of people in the city is as strong today as it when I came to Hull in 1984," says Godber.
"On a good night you want laughter and tears at the same time… and that piece of art has to have guts - it's muscular and abrasive and stands up in that environment."
John Godber has always sought inspiration from the people and places of Yorkshire and Humberside. Godber's plays have a strong sense of place, and are well known for their use of northern accents and dialect.
|John Godber making notes in Hull|
'Bouncers', John Godber's most popular play, is set in and around a northern nightclub called Mr Cinders, with the action focusing on the exploits of the four doormen and their customers. The play creates a vivid picture of the relentless hedonism of northern night life with its raw energy, flashing disco lights, and raucous lads and lasses out on the town.
Most people think the play was written about Hull, partly because it has played in the city an amazing 17 times. In fact 'Bouncers' was originally inspired by Kiko's in Pontefract, a Polynesian style night club with fake palm trees. "It's a celebration of the fantastic Bacchanalian aspects of urban night life. Forget 'Look Back in Anger', let's get out there - let's get pissed up," says Godber. As it says in the opening of the play, "all human life is here" - it's "a midnight circus".
Hull has been a rich source for many of Godber's characters and stories. Godber openly admits to the huge influence that the city has had on his work, saying that, "I'd be a different writer if I hadn't come to Hull".
John likes to do much of his creative thinking in waterside locations such as the city's riverside, marina, and docks. He is particularly keen on Hull Docks, "There's lots of space, involving a lot of sky and it's a great place for me to think here".
Godber has written three plays inspired by the coming and going of ferries to the docks. "I find it inspiring being on the coast and near the water," he says. He also gets inspiration from people-watching in Hull's many city centre cafés including Lucianos in Hessle.
His ability to eaves-drop on conversations from a distance is seen in the witty, crisp dialogue which characterises his plays, and his sharp observations of language and behaviour.
Living on the edge
Godber is fascinated by Hull's geographical position on the edge of Britain. John has always felt like a bit of an outsider himself, and being in Hull has reinforced those feelings. "I've always felt like an outsider, since failing my 11-plus," he says.
"Everybody feels like an outside deep down. I see this when people relate to my plays. I write to know that I'm not alone. There are three routes into Hull - the motorway comes from the west, over the bridge from the south and there's a rail link from Doncaster - and they all end here. Whichever way you look at it, Hull is the end of the line."
But Godber sees this as a positive thing, "I suppose geographically Hull is a city on the edge but I like to think Hull is a city on the edge of greatness". Godber also does much of his thinking outdoors at nearby Spurn Point, one of the most easterly places in Britain. "It doesn't feel like the edge," says Godber. "It feels like the beginning. "You get a sense of the sky and the space… an unfenced existence… I like it here because there's a lot of space to think. This is a great place to compose things."
|A still from Godber's Oddsquad|
Being an outsider is a strong theme in his Godber's latest TV drama, 'Oddsquad', shot in the city using a largely Hull cast. 'Oddsquad' is about a young man, Zack, arriving in Hull with his dad who has just got a new job in the city. It's about coming to terms with being in a new place and how Zack copes with making friends in his new school.
John thought that Hull with its 'edge' location was the ideal place to shoot the drama, part of which is set in a caravan on the Humberside coast, as he explains. "It's a womb, a place away from the world, a closed world, and I write a lot about closed worlds."
Godber is also fascinated by what happens when people get thrown together, whether it's in a rugby team, a night club or in a school. His recent play 'Perfect Pitch' is about people coming together through the world of caravanning, and it uses this world to explore other themes including the class divide and disintegrating relationships.
It was inspired by Humberside's many caravan parks and neglected seaside towns. For the location Godber chose a precarious cliffside pitch to convey "life in jeopardy, constantly under threat". For the play Godber drew on his childhood experiences of caravan holidays including his memories of the soggy British summer, complete with thermos flasks and blankets.
"My first introduction to caravanning was family holidays in Whitley Bay in the mid 1970s. Most of my memories are sat in the caravan … playing Happy Families whilst the rain rattled on the roof," recalls Godber.
For his forthcoming play, 'Wrestling Mad', John Godber is drawing his inspiration from the town of Bridlington. The town was the first place where he saw a wrestling match - now he's back there researching his latest play.
|John speaking to a wrestler|
Godber aims to use "the themes of struggle, performance, celebrity, physicality, alter egos to investigate other stories," he explains. "I'm trying to shine some light and illumination on some people's fascination and, at the same time, with a little bit of luck, say something about being alive."
The play focuses on American style wrestling with an added Northern flavour, and premieres at Hull Truck Theatre later this year. For this play Godber has eavesdropped on the wrestling scene in Yorkshire, soaking up the atmosphere and snippets of conversations between the sporting protagonists.
Expect a production which captures the excitement of the wrestling scene and its colourful characters.
John Godber has been a huge ambassador for Hull, putting the city on the map with his many plays inspired by the place where he lives. Hull is all too often been maligned in the national press, and was recently voted one of the worst places to live in Britain. But John Godber has done something to counter this negative perception of the city - he's helped to make it cool.
And he's not stopping there - Hull Truck has even bigger plans for the future with an expanded theatre at the heart of the local community. John continues to draw inspiration from Humberside in his work, even though he wasn't born and bred in the area. "Hull is an industrial city that has lost its industry. I'm from West Yorkshire, but there's not much difference between being the son of a miner and the son of a fisherman. Maybe that's why people respond to my plays."
Godber is adamant that his plays should not be elitist and should reflect ordinary lives. "If you put on a play that speaks to people, then they'll search it out. You have to connect, you have to feel, you have to engage the sympathy of the audience. They have to believe what's happening at the very least."
He hates plays about the dull and dire life of the working class written by middle class people for middle class people, especially "their sense of voyeurism".
Last stop - Hull
John Godber has put Hull on the map for drama, but his plays aren't inward looking - they have universal themes. "It's quite a different pair of eyes looking at this part of the world," concludes Godber.
John Godber is undoubtedly one of Hull's most famous adopted sons, and it's great for Humberside that he feels so passionate about the area and its people.
Watch John Godber's 'A Picture of Hull' on Monday 18th July, at 11.30pm on BBC 3.
Mixture of Realism with Non-Realism in John Godber's Play Bouncers
- Length: 523 words (1.5 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Mixture of Realism with Non-Realism in John Godber's Play Bouncers
John Godber was born in 1956, in Upton, West Yorkshire. He graduated
from Bretton Hall College, Yorkshire, England in 1978 as a qualified
teacher of drama and English and went on to an M.A. in Theatre at the
University of Leeds where began to write, direct and act in a
succession of increasingly successful productions. His most famous and
critically acclaimed play is Bouncers, which was nominated for Comedy
of the Year in 1985 and won seven Los Angeles Critics Circles Awards
and five awards in Chicago in 1987. The play is about a group of
Bouncers, who, through a mix of realism and Non realism, tell the
story of what happens in the discos and after the bars are closed.
In the first act, we are introduced to the characters: Judd, Ralph,
Les and Eric. While there is dialogue between the characters, it is
not in the context of a realistic scene. Instead, the style of the
dialogue is of a Greek drama, or in chorus style Here, Godber uses
non-realism in order to capture the audiences attention. The advantage
of using Non-realism in a play is that there are no boundaries;
anything can be included in the play. During our practical for the
first act, we had several ideas of how we could address the audience.
The fact that this is non-realism was a huge advantage to us, as we
could perform in any way that we felt best suited the play. We decided
that the scene should reflect the way we would perform. All the
characters are very excited and happy in the first scene, so we used
this in our body language and voices. The result is a fun performance
that the audience could interrupt in any form they wanted. Also, we
were able to perform the dialogue in a way which would reflect the
atmosphere of the scene. We also added some actions with some of the
Hip gipp hop bop
Drink that slop and don't you stop.
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John Godber Mixture Realism Greek Drama Audiences Attention Yorkshire Los Angeles Body Language Awards Capture
Here, we moved around each other to try and create a scene of chaos
and disorder, as this is what sometimes happens in a club. The play
then moves onto another scene in a hairdresser, where Godber's clever
mix of Non-realism and realism is prominent again.
Suddenly, the dialogue is a much more realistic, and so the scene in a
hairdressers is a lot more believable. However, the non-realism in the
play is that the men are dressed as women. The dialogue is a lot more
believable, but the non-realism in this scene creates humour:
When we performed this scene, we tried to create the inevitable humour
that one would expect when men dress up as woman. We set up the
hairdressers so that all four characters were quite near each other,
and so could interact. The set up looked something like this:
Although it was a realistic scene, we had to make sure that our
audience also saw the non-realism in it too. Throughout this scene, we
made sure that our actions and body language was more realistic than
the first scene. We were also limited in the ways in which we could
perform- it had to be believable.
For part of Godber's play, the mix of Non-realism and realism was a
successful. However, there were also some negative points. Although
the first scene allowed the audience to use their imagination, it also
meant they could completely lose the plot and perhaps message of the
play. They could interrupt the scene to however they wanted, instead
of how the playwright or director would have wanted. Also, the
language can get quite tedious and sometimes silly, which may be fun
for some, but not for all.
The scene at the hairdressers was a lot more successful then the first
scene. The audience could understand everything that was going on, but
could also see the humour with men trying to act like women.
Overall, I do think that the mix of Non-realism and realism was a
success. It allowed a change in the usual style in theatre, and would
keep the audience entertained as nothing was ever the same for long.