John Godber is a consummate communicator. His fusion of observational comedy with physical theatre has proved immensely popular since Bouncers premiered in 1977. His new play deals with a family and community who have lost the ability to communicate with each other.
Dad finds it difficult to engage with his wife and when she suddenly walks, he is left to bring up his daughter Holly alone. His paternal, protective instinct kicks in but he remains a constant source of embarrassment to her. Eager to distance herself from the slowly degenerating council estate in Hull, Holly attends university in London but is forced to return four years later with little more than a useless degree and a lot of debt.
Godber manages to capture the awkwardness of the fractured relationship with bright flashes of humour but, despite the laughs, it’s unspoken pain that dominates this play. The agony of failure is overwhelming initially from Jamie Smelt’s beautifully observed Dad and then finally, by Holly herself, in a tenacious performance from Martha Godber.
As absorbing as the play is, it’s also slightly frustrating. It explores plenty of issues on paternal relationships, community identity and anxiety but it doesn’t really take them anywhere.
Godber’s directorial style remains as slick as ever but in a cast of four, mostly on stage throughout, one actor remains blatantly underused. An irritating flaw in a piece that was developed from a one-woman show in the Old Vic’s One Voice season in 2016.