For the past 18-or-so months we’ve all felt somewhat restricted in our lives as a result of the pandemic. But John Godber and his family have turned that challenging time into one of creativity to produce a play that’s equal parts clever, funny and perfectly timed.
Sunny Side Up! Is set at Barney and Tina’s struggling Yorkshire coast B&B, and whilst Sunny Side may have been voted the ‘worst seaside town’ by the Sunday Times, they’ve never been busier. The couple, played by John Godber and his wife Jane, are joined by their no-nonsense daughter Cath, played by their daughter Martha Godber, where they share stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy.
Between lockdowns, Brits flocked to seaside towns to escape the monotony of their home towns and cities. As such, they opted for ‘good old fashioned’ holidays just like back in the 70s – though, thanks to economic decline, Sunny Side looks like it’s still in the 70s.
Burley B&B landlord Barney has an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, and suggests of Sunny Side ‘if you don’t like it, don’t bloody come’. After catching two trains and a bus to the end-of-the-line coastal hotspot, he says you’re guaranteed the ‘sun, sea, and the sewage backing up.’
Yorkshire lass and wife, Tina, invites her now middle-class brother, Graham and his partner, Sue, over for a few nights – and when a reluctant Graham finally agrees, he finds himself warming to his run-down town, perhaps even a glimmer of guilt for leaving.
Sunny Side Up was born from a bubble of four stuck at home during the pandemic, and as a result, you’re presented with a brilliantly stripped back play with little more than three actors, four deck chairs and a talented stage director – also a Godber daughter, Elizabeth.
John said: “We have been a fastidious bubble of four since March 2020. In June of that year, Paul Robinson from the Stephen Joseph Theatre asked if, since we were a bubble, we had anything to perform in the last week of September 2020. I put Sunny Side Up together and we did five socially distanced shows in Scarborough. And we’re still a tight bubble of four almost 18 months later.”
A change of jacket and the intelligent use of lighting sees the husband and wife due flit between Barney and Tina, to Graham and Sue, each with their own distinct identities, accents and mannerisms mastered in lockdown. Meanwhile Cath, who reminds me so much of Victoria, in Derek, meets Jodie Comer’s ‘Help’ character, transforms into Graham’s grandma on the seafront, as well as loud B&B-er Kelly. That said, I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of any of her characters.
Written in Godber’s signature style – having written and adapted over 60 plays – his characters both tell and narrate the story. Half of the time the audience find themselves a fly on the wall of hilarious moments and private jokes, whilst others, they’re the mate down the Jolly Jack’s that the cast are recounting the story to.
The humour is laugh out loud funny – like, proper belly laugh – with impeccable comedic timing. We couldn’t contain our giggles as the group climbed the stairs to the attic room of the hotel, only to make it all the more hilarious to discover the lift later in the show. And I could listen to Sue and Graham bicker all afternoon – with insight that only an actual couple could put together.
Now, Sunny Side Up is the second play I’ve seen this year that’s set either during, or shortly after the brunt of the pandemic. And whilst you might think to yourself that the last thing you want to do after three lockdowns is go and watch a play featuring Covid-19, then you’re mistaken. Sunny Side Up is not a play about Covid – it would have been too easy to make it such, with digs at the government’s handling of the past year and a half. Godber has ditched the politics in favour of a human reaction, of changing opinions and the divide in social and economic class. But ultimately, particularly for Graham, it’s about not forgetting where you’ve come from.
Sunny Side Up! is at New Vic Theatre until Saturday, October 30, with two socially distanced shows throughout the week for those still hesitant about full capacity shows.