Two new short plays, Lost by Jane Thornton and Found by John Godber form an interesting double bill at the Stephen Joseph theatre this summer. They are two handers, both set in Scarborough, and look at the difficulties of communicating within a relationship both at the start and after many years.
Lost follows an elderly couple, Len and Betty, who are returning to Scarborough for a short break after many years of marriage. Nothing much happens. They have their meals, their walks, and their ups and downs. It is a totally character driven, well observed, honest piece of writing and its audience of mostly older Scarborians were able to understand the subtleties of what was going on very easily as they recognised themselves and enjoyed its charming mix of laughter and pathos. The characters often speak directly to the audience, sharing feelings with us that they can’t share with each other, and small details are used cleverly to explore the relationship and the joys and sorrows of the couple, both separately and together. It is about putting up with stuff within a long term relationship and understanding why you have to, enduring the small annoyances and giving each other another chance in the hope that things will get better. So much of what was said by both Len and Betty rang true with the audience whose laughter was that of people who have been there and know what it feels like. There is a lovely moment where Len goes off to park the car and Betty explains that it will take him forever and tells us why, which is just one example of unshowy acutely observed writing among many. I felt for them. Matthew Booth and Jacky Naylor both give precise and touching performances, making the most of opportunities in the dialogue, and have a nice rapport both with each other and with the audience. A small delight, a real piece of writers theatre.
John Godber’s play Found is perhaps more ambitious, looking at themes of class mobility and snobbery from both sides of the fence as a young PhD student and an older woman in her fifties who is still partying and dressing as though she is much younger, meet on the foreshore at the end of a summer season of hotel work. It worked well, but I saw it very early in the run and I think the shaky start to the run with a late cast change affected this half of the double bill more at the moment. There were times when it wasn’t quite up to speed but I am absolutely certain that it will be very soon, the characters are already there and Matthew Booth and Jacky Naylor know them well enough. It just needs a little more bedding in. What happens when you cross class boundaries through education is a fascinating subject, and a very English one, and perhaps a short play doesn’t give enough space to explore it properly- it makes everything which happens just a little bit sudden. John Godber has set himself quite a challenge and that is no bad thing. He has succeeded, but it doesn’t quite ring with truth yet in the same way that Lost does.
Catch these plays on tour if you can. They are well worth seeing and they are only going to get better.