Lichfield Garrick Rep Company which has brought plays such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, The Entertainer and Educating Rita to the Garrick Studio and now turns to John Godber for the gentle 1983 comedy September in the Rain, a mix of nostalgia and relationships perhaps the most human of his many plays.

Roger Clarke has been talking to Sarah Jane Buckley and David Lonsdale (above) in rehearsal. 

September in the rain

Lichfield Garrick

May 30, 2014 to June 21, 2014

FOR many Northerners Blackpool was once a part of growing up. In the dull, grey aftermath of the Second World War, the Age of Austerity, it was bright lights and glamour, kiss me quick hats, escape to the seaside.

It had trams, running 11 miles from Starr Gate to Fleetwood along the full length of the prom, past three piers, Grand theatre, Opera House Winter Gardens, Blackpool Tower Circus, the Golden Mile and the Pleasure Beach – with no Alton Towers and the like, one of the few place to experience roller coasters.

It was deck chairs on the beach, donkey rides, lettered rock, fish and chips, ht dogs and candy floss, flasks of tea, sandwiches and Pakamacs . . . and watching rain from under a shelter on the prom in September, or, in tuth, any month containing a vowel..

It became the place for works outings for mill workers, family day trips and boarding house holidays and while other resorts shut up shop once school holidays were over and the late flurry of end of season pensioners dried up, Blackpool started again with the lights. It might be the illuminations on posters, but up North it was the lights.

John Godber’s 1983 gentle comedy, September in the Rain, is based on his own experiences of Blackpool and those of his parents and grandparents and charts the annual holiday pilgrimage to Blackpool of Jack and Liz across the Pennines from Yorkshire. Their first was as newlyweds through the heyday of the resort to their current visit, 40 years on, to a faded resort and faded memories.

Jack is played by David Lonsdale, who is perhaps best known as Claude Greengrass’s put-upon and dim-witted helper, David Stockwell in Heartbeat.

David, from Southport, 11 miles downJac and Liz arrive in Blackpoolthe Lancashire coast as the seagull flies on the other side of the Ribble estuary, and went to see the lights and the fair at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach as a youngster growing up and now takes his own family.

“We tend o go for the lights every year, and I am sure some of them have not changed since I was a kid, and we tend to go to the fair so we go, maybe, twice a year.

So a play about regular visitors is a comfortable fit for him although having never stayed overnight in Blackpool, the famed, or maybe infamous Blackpool landlady “has completely passed me by”.

Memories packed in suitcases as Jack and Liz comlet another pilgrimage across t'moors to Blackpool


He said: “It’s a time shift sort of play, we are going way back to the 1950s in some point and then going back to the present day, but the present day is very clearly defined as not being clearly defined. We are sort of placing the present day in the 1990s.

“Jack and Liz don’t have mobile phones for instance, but then again they might not have done. The play has a timeless quality.

Godber like Ayckbourn writes dialogue, which on the face of it appears normal everyday speech but in reality is a test to learn and deliver.

Lonsdale said: “Quite often people are under the misapprehension that Godber and Ayckbourn are naturalistic and of course they’re not. They have the image of it but it is completely artificial. It is pared back it almost has that poetic quality of getting rid of excess words. There is very little waffle in it.

“Everyone who comes will be aware they are watching a play, they are not listening in on a secret conversation because it is very structured.

“We are working on the assumption the play runs from shortly after they got married, before they had children, up to weeks before the old man dies.”

The play is not a line through time though, not chromological, it jumps between present and episodes in the past which Lonsdale, smiling, says means Godber “is doing lots of favours for the audience but none for the actors”.

“It is extraordinary, within a line you could have literally gone back 40 years.

Liz is Sarah Jane Buckley, who TV viewers will remember as Kathy Barnes in Channel 4 soap, Hollyoaks although she was last seen in the West Midlands in Hormonal Housewives at the Grand in Wolverhampton  last year and was at the Garrick four years ago in The Tart and the Vicar’s Wife.

She hails from Nantwich in Cheshire and like Lonsdale, she was a regular visitor to Blackpool. “In our youth we used to go across to Llandudno for holidays with the grandparents and Blackpool to go to the fair and the lights and that sort of thing so I know Blackpool well and I sang in Blackpool many times, I gigged there a lot as a singer.

She said: “I have never been in a John Godber play before and it is quite challenging. It is conversation which is hard. It looks easy on the page but is then incredibly hard to then bring to life, but the characters are very well written and really solid, which is great and then we can play around with them..

It is a very exciting but difficult thing to do. It is great for an actor, it is a challenge, which is what you look for in work t is very clever.

“It has a nice story to it and the other thing I found when I read it and now I’m working on it was that anybody of any age could identify with something in it, especially if you are in a couple of any description.

“Those sort of things that happen to Jack and Liz happen in most couples at some time, unlesspicture of tram and blackpool tower they are the couple who never say a word to anybody and are very sweet. There is a little bit of bickering,  little bit of making up, a little bit of fighting and a little bit of loving – and there is all that in this play which is fantastic.”


Memories in focus: Double decker tram, lights, blue sky and Blackpool Tower

The part is one she chose out of the many offers this year. She said: “When I saw it I loved it. I have not done studio productions since the Donmar a long time ago so this is a very interesting way of working, close up, but I do a lot of singing in clubs so I am used to working with people sitting that close and that is great – you can’t get away with anything – but it should also be interesting to be able to play things more subtly.

Gareth Tudor Price, the West Bromwich born director, knows the play well from his long association with John Godber going back almost 30 years and, more recently as a former artistic director of Hull Trucking Company,

He said: “John writes very naturalistic dialogue and sometimes the characters can be having a conversation but the lines are not connecting. As a couple who have been together for years they are having their own conversation which interweaves into the other person’s dialogue, but as with John’s other work, it is very rhythmic dialogue. He has a great ear for naturalistic sounding dialogue.

“We are setting it in the early 90s because if we set it now the terms of reference for the characters when they are in their 30s would be in the 1970s when actually the terms of reference are in the 1950s”.

The 50s saw a boom in Blackpool and other resorts and Lonsdale said: “It is an image of packed beaches, a choice of summer shows, people staying in honest houses rather than day trippers.”  

And Sara Jane has been a part of the ever changing seaside experience. Once big shows packed every pier and theatre all summer long but as Blackpool’s fortunes changed so di its shows.

She said. “I toured with the Chuckle Brothers and we did Blackpool, Skeggie, Scarborough, Yarmouth - Blackpool, Skeggie, Scarborough, Yarmouth for the whole of the summer on different piers.

“It used to be six to ten week runs but now they have to move about to justify doing them.”

John Brooking’s studio design gives an open set with a Blackpool backdrop and two deckchairs. Tudor Price said: ”It is storytelling at its purest”.

Pack you flask, sandwiches and Pakamac ready for the opening on May 30 with the production running to June 21.



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