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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Wrestling Mad – a bad play

On a good night you want laughter and tears at the same time… and that piece of art has to have guts. John Godber.

John Godber’s Wrestling Mad is touring the North of England and stopped over at York’s Grand Opera House for a few days. Godber directs this, his fiftieth script, under the management of Hull Truck, for whom he has been resident playwrite for the last twenty years.

Two actors without a future decide that wrestling is anyway just like theatre, but with a tad more sweat, and embark on a new career as professional fighters. It must be better than a life of walk-on parts and takeaway meals, they argue. It’s got to be better than supply-teaching. They might even meet some women.

After the first act a small and discerning part of the already tiny audience decided to escape and made for the carpark. We followed and actually got away, escaped, made it to freedom.

The play was terrible. Had it been written by an unknown it would never have been staged. The characters were one-dimensional. There was no tension. The dialogue was unconvincing and patronising. The author had nothing to say. It was embarrassing to watch the talent of an otherwise able cast, castrated by an unworkable script.

I don’t wish to be ungenerous but leaving this play in production and touring it simply to meet contractual deadlines does no one any good, least of all the reputation of the dramatist.

On a good night you want laughter and tears at the same time… and tonight there was neither.


TV Can Sometimes Come to the Rescue

We arrived home in time to catch BBC4’s screening of Shakespeare Behind Bars (2005), a documentary directed by Hank Rogerson, which follows twenty male inmates in a Kentucky prison as they form an unlikely Shakespearean acting troupe.

Their chosen play was The Tempest, which is ironic if you consider the play’s imagery of the island and the prison in which it is being rehearsed and performed, its concentration on nature and splendid isolation, and its underlying themes of forgiveness and redemption. The prisoners’, the actors’, daily milieu, on the other hand is about confinement and punishment.

The film asks if the creative process can help these social rejects, most of whom have committed horrendous crimes, to become better men. Curt Tofteland, director of the Shakespeare Behind Bars theatre troupe, believes it can. This documentary, a year in production, observes the prisoners as they find echoes of their own pasts, and confront their demons, through the characters they play. This is a moving and inspirational film.

4 Responses to “Wrestling Mad – a bad play”

  1. Martyn says:

    Thanks for that review – you’ve just saved us some money that may be better spent on the Arthur Miller production at the Theatre Royal. We were slightly tempted by the “2 for 1” ticket offer in the Evening Press, but on second thoughts…

  2. john baker says:

    Hey, look at that. I just changed the world with a few words. Didn’t have to draw my sword, didn’t need a gun. Can someone get the word through to the guys who run the world?

  3. Dick Jones says:

    There’s always been a hit or miss element about Godber. After the blockbuster successes of Bouncers & Shakers in the ’80s (both of which he has recycled since), he never quite hit his stride since. Which is sad because, in a small but distinct way, both pieces broke new ground in comic theatre.

  4. john baker says:

    No, I haven’t seen the film. But Our Town? Is that the Thornton Wilder play? If so, I know it well. Once, many years ago I produced and directed it here in York, in the UK. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, as are most of the things from Wilder’s pen.
    I’ll keep my eyes open for the film.