Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Michelle Dawes as Liz and Dan Payne as Jack soaking up the Blackpool sun. Picture: Alastair Barnsley

September in the Rain

Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


John Godber is the master of minutiae, the hum drum of daily existence, no big dramas or mysteries, no passionate love affairs, just ordinary people and their ordinary lives – people like you and me, and it is that familiarity that makes his plays interesting. We are watching ourselves, or people we know or at least remember.

Which brings us to Jack and Liz, married for donkey’s years, from Upton in West Yorkshire, merely by co-incidence, I’m sure, the same pit village where Godber was born. There are autobiographical aspects to this play as well as the setting, Godber was the son and grandson of miners, and his Jack carries on the line, a collier, a pitman through and through.

Liz and Jack are creatures of habit, taking the same week’s holiday, St Leger week in nearby Doncaster, the traditional Yorkshire miner’s holiday week. The same week, in the same place, Blackpool.

A Blackpool that had weather that could be kind or, more likely, wet, staying in guest houses where the nearest to en suite was a bathroom on the same landing.

We follow them from a young couple on their honeymoon through to old age and perhaps a final visit to that fading jewel of the north. They’re on the bus these days. Jack doesn’t like it, rather be in his car, but with his heart trouble . . . best be safe.

Michelle Dawes as Liz manages to switch from young to old in a flash. She’s the talkative one, expressive, a yearning to be romantic – in a small way, mind, nothing too outlandish, just holding hands and stuff like that, feeling warm, wanted, appreciated or just being reminded that she is there.

Him, well miners don’t say much, and, to be honest Northern working men are not renowned for their wordiness, talking only when they had to - my dad was a boilermaker in Oldham, so I should know. And as for romance? That’s sommat tha sees int’pictures. They loved t’wife all right, like yer do, but they didn’t need to shout about it.

Dan Payne’s Jack is happy to be there, as long as he, and his knotted hanky, are left alone. While other men might wear shorts, strip to their vest, the daring even taking vests off, Jack is happy in his trousers – holiday issue cavalry twill no doubt – rolled up a little, with the top button of his long-sleeved shirt unfastened if it became too warm as he reads his paper. Holiday bliss is a deck chair, peace and quiet and none of the surrounding holiday hordes too near.

His doing nowt is his undoing though as Liz lays into him on a regular basis, usually for something he hasn’t done or said, or has done, or said - marriage is like that – and once prodded Jack gets involved in their daft rows about nowt most of the time – Liz even left him for a day once because he wouldn’t hold her hand on the beach!

But we know they won’t split up, they need each other, love each other in their daft way. We feel for Michelle’s Liz with her quixotic longing for a more adventurous, more starry-eyed life but in her heart she knows Jack is the hand she was dealt, and, in truth, it is a not that bad a hand for the game of life. Solid, reliable – if a bit pig headed – Jack.

tower in the rain

Payne’s Jack might have been undemonstrative, but he cared, searching the whole of the prom, every shelter, for Liz when he thought she had left him, buying her tickets for a show at the Winter Gardens to make up – even if the show was The Student Prince, and his favourite!. “Well you like it as well”, he declared.

We had the strange affair of the Tower where a man who spent his working life miles in the blackness underground was frightened to go up the 400ft or so to the Tower observation deck until shamed into it by Liz, and once there was the calm one as she panicked.

The play is a goldmine of nostalgia to anyone who knew Blackpool in its heyday in the 50s and 60s. There was Billy’s Weekly Liar, a joke newspaper printed in Preston which along with Donald McGill’s postcards was an essential source of amusement for holidaymakers and trippers flocking to Blackpool and its kiss-me-quick attractions until it folded in the late 60s.

Then there is Frank Matcham’s opulent Tower Ballroom and its magnificent ceiling, or the Manchester Hotel, on the seafront and the first . . . and last . . . port of call for many as the nearest hotel – it preferred that to pub - to the nearby coach station, the main terminus for visitors. It was a watering hole which once claimed the longest bar in Britain, and of course there was Jo Stafford singing that old standard, September in the Rain.

Sheffield born Yorkshireman Payne and Lancashire lass Michelle, who, incidentally, originally comes from Blackpool, have no problem with the accents, or indeed characters, and become Liz and Jack with all their bickering and faults – faults which from the nudges, glances and titters in the audience seemed to hit home quite often, much to many a husband’s discomfort. We see them as a young couple, as parents and as an elderly pair with the Blackpool sea breeze in their faces navigating their twilight years.

The play marks Rod Bissett’s directorial debut and it is a promising start. Two handers might seem easy, after all, there are only two people to direct, but those two people have to be interesting all the time and remember this is a Godber play.

That means enough characters to fill a coach and all from a cast that could have turned up in a Smart car. The cast do an excellent job populating the story and holding interest with a minimal set, a collection of pairs of chairs, with the help of a video wall with Blackpool scenes and lighting from Stan Vigurs and Sound from Colin Mears with snatches of 50’s pop music and rain . . . plenty of rain.

The result is a gentle, quietly moving and most enjoyable comedy about ordinary people, people we all know, even, at moments, about ourselves. A marriage seen through a lifetime of holidays in Blackpool in September in the rain . . . To 18-05-19.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate