John Godber’s latest touring production “Shafted” certainly demonstrates that he continues to draw in big audiences and audiences that, on the whole, go away happy. In many ways this production is classic Godber. The minimalistic set of a garden gate or garden bench, the symbolism of the mining torches hanging over head, the blasts of popular music in between scenes, the realistic fast, witty dialogue and the politics within his exploration of character. With all the ingredients of what has made his prolific playwriting career so successful in the past, I was expecting a knock out evening of entertainment but could not help feel that something was missing over all.
John Godber himself takes on the role of Harry whilst Jane Thornton is Dot his wife, both onstage and off. There is, as you would perhaps expect, an excellent rapport between them as the couple show the impact of the life after the pit closures of the 80s and the toll of both unemployment and self employment as we track Harry and Dot through 30 years of marriage. Godber’s dialogue is realistic and when at its best reminds you of his talent in finding the truth in characters that his audiences can relate to. Godber, as Harry, presents us with a broken man, all consumed by his loss of livelihood that there is something altogether bitter sweet when we see him painting gnomes that he fondly names after Scargill and alike.
This is a very assured performance but at risk of being too realistic with his delivery of lines that were occasionally mumbled and lost. Dot his wife has the courage and determination to pick him up as the couple move from Upton to Bridlington in hope of regaining happiness and some meaning in their lives. Thornton is at her best in the monologues that reveal her true feelings and the wider impact of the strike on her and the family.
The staging as you would expect is simplistic and natural with subtle changes in costume, lighting and set to show the passing of time. Projected titles inform us of the journey through the years, which was disappointingly lost for me from my position in the auditorium at the side. The decision to reverse time in act two allowed us to see a slightly deeper side to the characters as Godber unravels the decisions that were made and exposes the characters further.
Whilst all the ingredients are present there was something desperately lacking in Shafted for me. The play almost stops too abruptly without really making its mark. The first act felt very slow with short episodic scenes, which barely seemed to get going before music was blasting out to mark yet another scene change. Whilst Act Two delivered a little more, at 35 and 45 minutes each, I wonder if Godber really had enough to say about the effect of the miners strike or whether really it has all been said better before. I am sure local audiences will enjoy the almost nostalgic journey through time and there are more than enough local references to spot, but Shafted lacked the sparkle, wit and poignancy that has made Godber’s work so good in the past.
Reviewed by Ashley Price
Reviewed on 11th February 2016