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Gym and Tonic

John Godber

John Godber Company and Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Oldham Coliseum

October 1-2, 2019; 2hr

Robert Angell, Stephanie Hackett, Peter McMillan and Jacqueline Naylor in Gym and Tonic at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Ant Robling
Robert Angell, Stephanie Hackett, Peter McMillan and Jacqueline Naylor in Gym and Tonic at Oldham Coliseum. All pics: Ant Robling

Twenty five years ago John Godber wrote one of his feisty, enjoyable (though not one of his best) Hull Truck days plays about a financially and emotionally struggling couple who check into a health spa they can't afford to reconnect with each other.

Coincidentally with its quarter-century anniversary, he has rewritten and directs it for his own company with a focus in a different direction: not marital strife - though that is still clearly uppermost in the script - but male depression.

By doing so he seems to have pretty much taken the life out of the thing. Two hours pass with scenes that don't seem to go very far - amusing though they sometimes are - as we wait for a point (though there is some suggestion - partly the short run time - that changes are still being made).

The original had a lot of fun with the clear enthusiasm of wife Shirley (Stephanie Hackett, enjoyably direct) for the aspirational, beyond-their-means lifestyle of massages, "treatments" and lounging about in fluffy robes, while her husband Don acted as a sort of miserable human cash register, counting up the money they were wasting to seem at one with the millionaire lifestyle of the genuine millionaires around them.

Godber has left in his two massage scenes for Don - the first the most amusing scene of the evening - and also still there is his best character, Gertrude (Jacqueline Naylor), who steals every scene she is in as an old-money, slightly dotty multi-millionairess.

Sadly he has also left in 81-year-old Gertrude's advice to the couple to split up and do what they really want to do. This might have been amusingly direct in a comedy about marital strife, but is it still when we are supposed to believe the husband is so pressured that he is on the verge of some sort of breakdown?

Similarly, the fourth character, handsome but bluff Ken (Robert Angell), appears to make a play for Shirley, but one so half-hearted you wonder why Godber bothered. In the play's original focus this would have been an obvious relationship to have fun with. Now, with her husband supposedly deeply depressed, it is merely callous.

If Godber wanted to turn his original play into something else, he might have done better to start again and write something new. All he has done here is to make his characters, and the comedy, rather heartless.


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