|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.
‘Bouncers 1990s Remix’ by John Godber and ‘Shakers-Restirred’ by John Godber and Jane Thornton
- Length: 1532 words (4.4 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
For my Coursework I studied ‘Bouncers – 1990s Remix’ by John Godber,
and ‘Shakers-Restirred’ by John Godber and Jane Thornton.
For my Coursework I studied ‘Bouncers – 1990s Remix’ by John Godber,
and ‘Shakers-Restirred’ by John Godber and Jane Thornton. Originally
set in the 1980s but later adapted for the nineties, the plays are
often performed together. They tell stories about urban nightlife from
the points of view of nightclub bouncers and cocktail waitresses. Each
play only involves four actors, and they play all the parts. I enjoyed
studying the plays as they use comedy, melodrama and music to portray
some very different characters. I also noticed that sometimes, beneath
the comic aspects of the play, there were more serious messages about
Area of Study 1 – Character and Context
Our play was similar to ‘Bouncers’ and ‘Shakers’ as we worked in
groups of four too.
Our characters were police officers, as we felt that the police see
just as much of the things that go on in nightclubs and bars as
Bouncers do. As well as being police officers, we also played all the
parts of the smaller characters in the bars and clubs. We took this
idea of playing multiple characters from the plays we read.
My main character was a female police officer called Karen Smith. She
comes across as a very strong, blunt and confident character, from a
rough background, but she hides a secret. When Karen was younger her
dad was really violent to her, her mum and her sisters, and it was
years before he was finally caught and arrested. It was as a ten year
old, seeing her dad taken away, and feeling so relieved, that she
decided to be a Police officer when she grew up, so she could help
(See Role on the wall) I wanted to show the hard and soft side of
Karen’s character, and so I tried really hard to show the reason for
her harshness. At one point she speaks directly to the audience about
her past; this is when her true character is revealed. The others in
my group played the following roles:
Matt – Tom Rivers – a police officer who has only recently joined the
force. He is gay, and is worried that people will find out. He tries
to seem extra tough.
Sam – Ron Brown - he has been a police officer many years and thinks
he knows everything. His wife died a year ago and now all he has is
Anna – Marie Graves – a young policewoman who is very pretty and
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:: 5 Works Cited
John Godber Shakers Thornton Police Officer Police Officers Other People Main Character Karen Nightlife Nightclub
thinks that the police force is very sexist against women.
The context of our play is that the police officers are working in a
busy town on a Friday night. We decided to set our play in quite a
rough town so that more interesting things would happen. We set our
play in the present as we as devisers could identify with that time,
and also our audience could identify with our references and music we
Area of study 2 – Structure, shaping and Plot
We tried to take aspects of the plays we studied into consideration as
we structured our own play. We decided that we needed to introduce our
characters first, and we chose to do this with some music and a poem.
Our play was a mixture of several short scenes which were quite funny
and over-the-top, and some longer, more serious monologues, when the
police tell their inner stories. We wanted to link the scenes together
a bit, so tried a few options before deciding on this order:
1. Intro – poem/music
2. Police conversation
3. Drunk women outside club
4. Anna’s monologue about being a woman in police force
5. Drunk men – leading into pushing and shoving – name-calling
6. Matt’s monologue – worried he’ll be found out.
7. Old tramps
8. Sam’s monologue – old and lonely
9. Big fight
10. My monologue about my past
11. Final scene
The plot was quite easy to come up with as we tried to tell stories
about urban nightlife, as a mixture of the funny and the serious. We
all made up our own monologues to tell our characters stories. The
order of events is not chronological, but quite random and abstract.
We intended not to tell a straight forward story, not to give a
general overview of modern nightlife.
Area of Study 3 -Audience
We thought a lot about who our target audience should be. At first we
discussed Theatre-in Education, and how our play could be used to show
teenagers the dangers in nightlife if they were not careful. However
we felt that a lot of the issues we raised may make our play
unsuitable for school students. We decided that the purpose of our
play was to entertain an older audience, who would identify with the
themes and characters. We also wanted to make serious points about the
work of the police, and the problems that could be going on in
people’s lives that we know nothing about. We wanted the audience to
find a lot of the scenes funny, so made our characters over-the top
and silly. When we did our monologues we wanted the audience to be
shocked by what we said and so we spoke directly to them, and there
was no other action on the stage.
Area of Study 4 – Defining performance space.
Because we didn’t have much set or scenery, we first considered
performing our play in the round. We tried this out but we found that
it was difficult to position ourselves correctly on stage. We also
tried using a Proscenium stage, but we felt that then the audience
seemed too far away. We went with the idea of a studio stage in the
end, as it meant that the audience were on the same level as us, and
that we were really close to them so they could feel part of the
scene. We could interact with them.
Area of Study 5 – Improvisation
We used improvisation a lot in the planning stages of our play. We did
spontaneous improvisation on the short, funny scenes, as we already
knew the types of things we wanted to happen. Then we polished our
improvisations to get them ready for performance. To prepare our
monologues we did hot-seating, asking one another questions in role in
order to fully understand our characters’ pasts.
Area of Study 6 – Genre, Style and Convention
Our play covered a lot of genres, the most obvious being comedy. I
would say our play was a dark comedy as a lot of the humour was from
subjects that were not nice, like being drunk and sick. We also had
aspects of kitchen sink dram, but with a modern twist, as working
class people told their stories.
The short scenes were designed to be over-the-top, non naturalistic
and in places, melodramatic. The monologues were almost stream of
consciousness in style as the characters told their innermost
thoughts. The whole play can be seen as a montage of events in a way,
showing a whole slice of society.
In my planning I used; role on the wall, brainstorming, storyboarding,
and hot-seating, as well as scripting and improvisation. Our play
itself used the dramatic conventions of music, role-reversal,
monologue, slow-motion and freeze-frame. These helped us make more of
an impact on our audience.
Area of Study 7 – Semiotics of drama and Theatre
In our play there were many signs to the audience. When we first
appeared on stage we were wearing police officers hats, to be a sign
of our profession. When we were drunk girls we wore high heels, when
we were drunk boys we wore baseball caps, and as the tramp, Matt wore
a raincoat. As we didn’t wear full costume (only black clothes) these
extra props were all signs that we had changed character. Body
language was also a sign during our play. We also used Proxemics; when
a character was sat on the chair in the spotlight, the light
represented truth. Sitting in the chair was the only place where
characters were truly honest; that’s why all four monologues happened
In the planning and performing of this play, I think I took on aspects
of all four roles: deviser, designer, director and performer. We all
devised and planned ideas together. I think Sam and I had most of the
original ideas, but the others all helped, and we all came up with our
own ideas for monologues. We all had different ideas with regard to
designing and I feel that although we succeeded her to some extent, we
could have tried harder with our set. We all directed each other and I
feel this worked well, but sometimes it might have been easier if just
one of us took on that role, as we had a few disagreements. My role as
a performer was the main role I played. My intention was to create a
range of humours, identifiable and sympathetic characters. I feel I
succeeded really well, but if I had had more time I would have
developed my main role as Karen even further to be even more