Our favourite playwright returns to the city stage
DERBY theatre-goers have missed John Godber and the playwright, in return, has missed Derby audiences.
After being almost a permanent fixture at the old Playhouse a decade ago, the Godber comedies disappeared from the Derby stage, despite record runs of shows like Bouncers, On the Piste and hosting the premiere of Gym and Tonic.
Godber was the Playhouse banker, the safe bet in any season; guaranteed to get bums on seats. He was, quite rightly, dubbed "Derby's favourite playwright".
But times changed.
"Once Mark Clements left as artistic director there was a change of policy," says John. And yet there was a clear affinity between Derby audiences and Godber's earthy, man-of-the-street humour.
"You would generally regard Derby as the north and there's clearly not that much difference in the disco-going of me living in Hull and the guys in Derby," says John, reflecting on the box office bonanza of Bouncers.
"There may have also been something in the fact that whenever I went skiing I went from East Midlands Airport, so maybe I caught a little of the East Midlands humour in On The Piste.
John was born in West Yorkshire and trained as a teacher before turning to the theatre. He has been artistic director of Hull Truck Theatre Company since 1984.
He's the country's third most performed playwright, after Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. Which isn't bad for a working class Yorkshire lad.
"It's a statistic that has been bandied around and it's nice to be in that kind of company," he says.
"My plays have been performed a hell of a lot. They are done by amateurs quite often, which means they can be slaughtered quite a bit, but that's something I have to live with."
So what's his secret?
"For me it's simple. If you create a world people recognise, they respond to it.
"Most people write out of anger. They feel angry at the way the world works or with certain aspects of life. I had a working class upbringing and therefore sympathy with those kind of people."
That shows in Men of the World, the current Hull Truck touring production which marks John's return to the old Playhouse stage.
"When we do a tour we look at all kinds of places and, with the theatre being back open, Derby came up on the radar again and we assumed there's still a reasonable fanbase."
Men of the World is the story of a bus trip from the North of England to Heidelberg in Germany and the trials and tribulations of the people who are over 60 on the buses and those under 60 driving them. John wrote it in 2002 but thinks, if anything, it's even more relevant now.
"What's fascinating is that now we are in a recession, with people counting every penny. I noticed a bus trip down the Moselle yesterday – £240 for five nights.
"Like most of my plays it looks at marginalised sections of society. It's a very touching play that will ring true with audiences."
John's plays are based on sharp observations of life.
"One of the serious points of the play is that we as a society don't cater for old people very well and the last cold snap is an example of that.
"My plays are based on what I see of the world around me. I'm saying to audiences, 'I have observed this to be true, do you feel the same? I wouldn't presume to say this is my message and I want to get it across, that's what politicians do."
And will Men of the World start another connection with Derby?
"I hope so," says John. "I was saddened when I heard the Playhouse was no more. Now I'm delighted to go back there and hope we can relive those great evenings."
MEN OF THE WORLD
WHERE: Derby Theatre.
WHEN: February 1-3.
TICKETS: From £8.
BOX OFFICE: 01332 255800.