A charming, funny piece of nostalgia.
The Carlton Players continue their season with Godber’s nostalgic and gentle comedy, loosely based on the writer’s own grandparents. Liz and Jack have holidayed in Blackpool from newlyweds in the 1950s until old age in the 1990s. Never missing a year, they’d make their way from Yorkshire across the A59 to the seaside resort with its boarding houses, fun fair, deckchairs and donkeys.
Originally written as a radio play, this has been a popular choice for theatre groups over the past forty years. A two-hander, where both characters speak to the audience and take on the roles of other characters to recall their stories: some sentimental or amusing, others laugh-out-loud funny. Liz and Jack certainly have their spats and shouting matches but we know, deep-down, they really love each other and are a good match.
The piece calls for two seasoned actors who can deliver the comedy and pathos and keep the rapport with the audience. In Gareth Crawshaw and Sallyanne Nelson, director David Tolcher certainly found a couple that has great chemistry and a lot of talent. Crawshaw, a regular at the Little Theatre, always turns in a strong performance but in Jack he really inhabits the character and is totally believable and sympathetic. Nelson is a newcomer to Carlton Players but her experience is obvious as she gives a really engaging and confident Liz, as well as taking on a range of other characters. The stage business of packing, driving, paddling in the sea and watching a show were all delivered with good observation and details, helping to create the world of the play.
As it calls for many locations, the set must be economic and fluid as the couple move from place to place. Tolcher achieves this with an almost bare stage apart from a very substantial shelter and two chairs which become the car, the café, the theatre and the big dipper and this simplicity worked well. There are many locations, so it requires a lot of lighting changes and here they came a little unstuck, due mainly to the actors not given the correct lines for the cues. Of course, the audience would never know as these two skilled thespians kept the dialogue and action going and even managed a few adlibs but it did mean there were a few blackouts where there shouldn’t have been. Even when the lighting was in the right place, Jack was often in shadow, not helped by his cap. Another minor point was perhaps to have the café set from the beginning rather than a stage-hand setting a table and tea things. It was a distraction. These glitches can be ironed out because essentially the performers and director did a really solid job and it was very entertaining. The audience warmed to these two and there was genuine laughter throughout.
The director added a backdrop of projected photos to set each period and place, which gave height and interest to the visuals. There was a soundtrack of appropriate music and the two performers, who both sang well, gave renditions of songs throughout. Other sound effects were less evident: perhaps the sound of gentle waves on the beach, traffic when they’re in the car and the sound of rain, which after all is an important part of the plot, could have given the piece more texture.
All in all, this is a show worth seeing and tickets are still available for Friday and Saturday night. It may not be September, but it will certainly warm you on a cold February evening, having followed Jack and Liz through forty years of Blackpool’s endearing magic. A charming, funny piece of nostalgia which everyone will enjoy.
Playing until 4th February, https://www.carltonlittletheatre.co.uk/whats-on/
Reviewer: Bev Clark
Reviewed: 2nd February 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★