Blackpool’s golden smile

Jack and Liz on the sands at Blackpool

Miner's welfare: Liz (Sarah Jane Buckley) takes in the sun in sunglasses bought from a nice attractive young man on the beach while Jack, David Lonsdale, still booted and suited, relaxes with a knotted hanky his only concession to sunbathing

September in the Rain

Lichfield Garrick Rep

*****

THIS might be just a play but it is more authentic than any of the offerings from that great misnomer of our age, reality TV.

Sarah Jane Buckley and David Lonsdale bring Liz and Jack to life. They become the Yorkshire couple who have loved and squabbled their way through more than 40 years of marriage.

This is not Hollywood wedded bliss, soft focus, glossy lips and romantic music;  this is a marriage which has had its ups and downs, its doubts, its difficulties, rows and falling outs, making ups, a marriage where romance is taken as read rather than read out loud.- a life till death us do part that most people recognise..

We never really know what goes on in other Jack and Liz todaypeople’s marriages but from the nods and murmurs, smiles and knowing laughs, it was a marriage and people with which most in the audience could identify.

I could see echoes of my parents, particularly, my father in Jack and Liz and nods of approval and remarks from audience members filing out in the interval confirmed this was a memory play for just about everyone there.

We first meet Jack as an old man. He is a retired miner with a fast failing heart and, although never stated, is perhaps not long for this world as he makes what is probably his last annual pilgrimage with wife Liz to Blackpool. 

They talk of perhaps going off to the East Coast instead of Blackpool next year, up to the North East, Geordies, but we know it is little more than a dream; Jack’s heart might be big but it is failing fast.

Pensioners on the Prom: Liz treasures her memories as husband Jack, his heart failing, leans upon a chair for support

As they sit on the seafront, comfortable in themslves, they reminisce about a married lifetime of holidays in the boarding houses of Blackpool, of shared tables with sewerage workers, of tiny rooms next to a toilet being flushed all night long, of tears at The Student Prince at the Winter Gardens,  and the rows, seemingly every year as they got ready to leave.

John Godber’s writing, and he was in the Press night audience, is about ordinary life and the inspiration for September in the Rain comes from his grandparents and his own experiences. For the first 19 years of his life he went to Blackpool, in September, and stayed at Mavis’s Guest House on Woodfield Road.

September was the Yorkshire miners’ holidays, coming after the summer long Wakes weeks of Lancashire mill towns.

Godber’s memory has no Indian summers, he said: “Invariably the weather was nice  on our arrival, we had two days of sunshine, and then it pelted it down for the rest of the week. On the day we were return to West Yorkshire the sun would come out again.” Probably not every year, but it is what he remembers just as school holidays in summer were always filled with blue skies.

Thus, in Godber’s world,  Jack and Liz spend a lot of time in that Blackpool holiday essential, the Pakamac, walking up and down the Prom and sitting in shelters eating fish and chips out of paper.

The two actors make their characters very human, real people and in the intimate confines of the studio we become part of their memories as they relive scenes from the past.

Jack is a big, burly and at times cantankerous miner, working in a hole in the ground he tells us, and always ready to settle any argument or perceived affront with his fists, although he never does. He is full of bluster and quick to take offence yet the big, tough, take on anybody miner shows a vulnerability, refusing to strip beyond shirt sleeves and rolled up trouser legs on the beach, a dislike of crowds and people, a fear of going up Blackpool Tower and admitting his moods of anger and aggression are triggered by an intense jealousy when it came to his wife Liz.

He obviously loves her dearly, in his own way, but it is not manly in the miners’ world to show affection. Like coal in the ground, it is there, but you have to dig it out.

Liz comes to accept her husband’s . . . well not so much failings as what and who he is.

There are walk outs when Jack gets too much, which don’t last long, and she finds she is to blame for pretty much everything and anything that goes wrong, at least she is according to Jack, a trait common with many husbands.Liz and Jack have a paddle And that includes Jack reversing into a van behind the new family car while they were stuck in a traffic jam at Preston.

But behind all the bluster, anger and aggression she is the calming influence and we see her mellow and accept as the years pass until we reach the present, where we opened, and she is on probably her last trip with a dying husband.

 

No trip to Blackpool is complete without a paddle and jumping the waves - even if it does mean Jack has to take his shoes off!

We have seen her admiring and wondering, never seriously, when she sees more handsome, more refined, more film star looking men, and seen her affronted at the slightest suggestion of impropriety by an attractive young man in the ice cream queue. These are daydreams not real ones and we are all allowed those those.And we have seen her look and speak with affection at her lumbering, clumsy Jack.

The play jumps around from the 1950s, through two children and countless guest houses, to where director Gareth Tudor Price has set the present, in the 1990s and he and the cast have added some lovely clever touches, such as engaging the audience in passing as onlookers or as deckchair attendants.

There are visually well observed comic moments such as Liz unable to see at the theatre, or Jack’s attempt to set up a deckchair – and we have all been there – and the pride, and applause, when he sets a second one up in one easy movement.

Then there are his laboured attempts to sit in and get out of deckchairs, not the easiest seating for big burly miners.

By the end we had shared part of Liz and Jack’s life; we have seen them as a young couple, seen them grow old, cared about them as real people, we had laughed, a lot, and we felt for them and the inevitable future they are now facing – and that says everything you need to know about the performances of Lonsdale and Buckley. They had ceased to exist.

The simple setting from John Brooking, with a backdrop of the prom and tower, which light up at night, is effective while the lighting from Jonathan Martlew deserves a mention cleverly picking out areas of the stage or reproducing clouds passing over the sun it was noticeable for all the right reasons. Lichfiled Garrick Rep has built a reputation for quality productions and this can only enhance it. As studio productions go, this is up there with the best. To 21-06-14

Roger Clarke

03-06-14

David Lonsdale and Sarah Jane Buckley talk about Blackpool and their roles.

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