From The Torch to The Kings Hall – Northern Soul has long been ingrained in the culture and community of Stoke-on-Trent, with well attended all-nighters of stomping, moving and high kicking to the sound of The Four Seasons or Sister Sledge.
So it was no surprise that John Godber’s latest production saw a packed out opening night at Newcastle’s New Vic Theatre this week, which has seen Godber combine his love of Northern Soul with his award-winning playwriting in what is essentially a love letter to the 70s music and dance movement.
Touring the show on the 50th anniversary year of Wigan Casino, the play takes its name from the title of Frank Wilson’s hit – one of the world’s most valuable records – Do I Love You?
Set in post-covid 2023, the narrative follows Sally (Martha Godber, John’s daughter), Nat (Chloe McDonald) and Kyle (Emilio Encinoso-Gil) as they desperately try to work out what to do with their lives. Godber, as always, is acutely observant of societal issues, and incorporates frustrations around the cost of living, unemployment and lack of opportunity in the North, which begs the question – ‘ has anything really changed? Is this England 1973 or 2023?’
Between complicated romances, career prospects and complex family dynamics, the Hull-based twenty-somethings develop a love for, and the people involved with, Northern Soul. Working at the fried chicken drive thru by day, heading out to all-nighters come weekend, the Hull trio discover a sense of community within the Northern Soul scene, and find themselves training for a night at Blackpool’s iconic Tower Ballroom.
If you’ve seen Bouncers, Shakers, or Sunny Side Up, you’ll be familiar with the pace and prose of Godber’s work – short snappy scenes, a collective monologue style narration addressed to the audience, witty one liners and imaginative sets. Between them, Sally, Nat and Kyle convince the audience that they’re on crowded buses, in bustling fast food restaurants or in vibrant Northern Soul clubs, delivering hilarious one-liners and curating a strong sense of friendship. The character development throughout is a joy to watch unfold, in particular Sally, who’s stoney exterior softens to show her vulnerability.
There are some incredibly emotional moments between her and her nan – which is actually just Chloe in a silk head wrap with an Irish accent – with tender scenes as she reminisces of her own days on the dance floor. Meanwhile, Emilio’s effortless transition into 68-year-old Soulie Keith is fantastic, delivering a passionate speech on the significance of Northern Soul for the working class, which resonated around the room.
At the heart of the story is, of course, a toe-tapping soundtrack of Northern Soul hits from across the decades, which is met by some impressive shuffling and spinning from the cast, choreographed by none other than Stoke-on-Trent’s own Sally Molloy – World Northern Soul Championship winner of 2022. Sally discovered her love of the movement when she was 19, and as such, they couldn’t have found anyone better suited to support the show.
While all three actors convinced the crowd they’d been cutting shapes for years, Martha Godber in particular really shone in the final scenes with a seemingly natural ability for the style, feeling the music… keeping the faith.
Do I Love You will not only spark nostalgia for those who grew up with Northern Soul, but beholds the power to inspire a new generation of Soulies. It’s such an honest and authentic production, born out of genuine passion – and it shows. With its wonderful local links and the importance of the area in the history of Northern Soul, Do I Love You has truly found its audience here in Staffordshire. *Googles Northern Soul dance workshops near me*
Don’t miss your chance to watch this warm-hearted production at the New Vic this week, running until Saturday, February 3.