Theatre Review: “Sunny Side Up” by John Godber @ The New Vic

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Photo by Ant Robling

The latest production at The New Vic Theatre is very much a family affair as John Godber, best known for his play “Bouncers”, directs himself, his wife and daughter in a play written during the first lockdown, in 2020.

John Godber holds the record as the second most performed living British playwright with only Alan Aykbourn ahead of him and from this work, it is easy to see why. To add to the family theme, John’s other daughter, Elizabeth is the stage manager.

All of the cast of “Sunny Side Up” play multiple parts as we see Tina and Barney the owners of a bed and breakfast hotel in Sunnysands, invite her brother Graham and sister-in-law Sue, (all played by John Godber and Jane Thornton) to stay at their hotel for a couple of nights as the Covid restrictions prevent foreign travel.

Graham is a retired academic who has managed to escape from the run-down Yorkshire coastal town where the hotel is located. But as he says during the action “You can take the boy out of Sunnysands but you can’t take Sunnysands out of the boy”.

Soon Graham, who was reluctant to go back at all to his childhood home, is really enjoying himself in Sunnysands, eating fish and chips on the prom and fishing for crabs in the rockpools on the beach.

Back at the hotel the pair are looked after by Cath (Martha Godber) their niece, who forgets that the hotel actually does have a lift and asks the vegans how they would like their eggs. She also tells Graham to borrow her father’s parking space with disastrous consequences. Although Sunnysands is not necessarily the safest place she is confident that her judo lessons will make sure that she stays safe.

As the play unfolds, we learn that, while Graham may be politically left leaning, he likes the middle- class lifestyle that he has created for himself and Sue. However, Graham is stuck in a no man’s land, considered too posh by the natives in Sunnysands but not posh enough by his daughter Zoe, now a doctor and married to a wealthy man. He is confronted by Kelly, a young resident of the hotel who doubts how seriously he believes in his principles or else he wouldn’t have left his hometown.

“Sunny Side Up” is a sharply written piece very much in the John Godber style. There is commentary on how people feel about going back to traditional British seaside towns when they can’t go anywhere else. These places have no jobs, no trains and no buses. It is also the story of the relationship between Graham and his sister, Tina, one of whom has made a “success” of his life and one who still lives in the town where she was born. But which of them is the happier?

“Sunny Side Up” runs at the New Vic Theatre, Etruria Road, Newcastle-under Lyme, ST5 0JG until Saturday October 30th. Tel 01782 717962 or email tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk