The prospect of returning to a time of spots, chubbiness and GCSE Physics is particularly unappealing, leading me to view any form of school reunion with a distinct amount of dread. Hull Truck’s touring production of John Godber’s latest play, straightforwardly named ‘Reunion’, served only to extend the bargepole where such a gathering hangs.
From the moment two ‘stage crew’ came onto the talkshow-style set, brushing down the ‘love bench’ and briefing the audience with the catchphrase chants that were to intermitently be solicited by the almost pantomimic host Martin (played by Zach Lee), the audience were successfully and authentically transported from the intimate surroundings of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre into the recording studio of Godber’s fictional Channel 19. This could have been the live recording of any satellite television programme. As my companion whisperedly commented, it ‘felt like being on Ricky Lake’.
As it was, we were the vulnerable witnesses of a television gameshow sharing the same name as the play, warned that at any moment we could be plucked from our comfortable observation and thrust into the onstage action. The concept was relatively simple. A contestant was forced to relive encounters from his school and university past, such as a college ball, with the intention that he determined whether or not the people in the reconstructions were impostors or the authentic characters from their past. There was big money at stake, and as the drama unfolded it became uncomfortable to see how far the somewhat endearing Jack (Gordon Kane) would go in pursuit of this goal.
Ultimately, the allure of fortune and a mid-life crisis inspired attempt to reinvigorate his youth, allowing himself to fall for the supposed sweetheart from his college days (both pictured left). Consumed by the moment, they pushed reality to the extreme and allowed themselves to get intimately, and passionately, carried away. At this point the atmosphere within the audience swung from unrestrained, and very much deserved, laughter, to a pervading sense of uncomfortability. The situation had gone too far, and yet, like television reality, we had been absorbed by the unfolding events, partly aware that they would ultimately turn decidedly unpleasant. The double revelation for Jack that his wife had secretly observed these hideous proceedings (“You ruined my life, you bastard”) and the starlet from his past was an actually a totally unconnected actress, meant a natural affinity with Jack’s earlier sentiment that “It is getting a bit real”.
Godber had ably and successfully created a thoroughly enjoyable show that recreated and parodied a common genre. However, the motivations of greed and fame, whilst being shown to contain life-changing pitfalls, were tackled relatively obviously, failing to draw innovative conclusions. This said, it remained a well devised and extremely competently executed performance. If this is what being in a talkshow audience is really like you can count me out. Equally, I’ll be considering reunion invitations with extreme caution. “They reckon you should never go back”, said Jack. Amen.