By Gillie Tunley and Brenda Sandilands.
Progress Theatre are staging Happy Jack, John Godber’s timeless and touching tale (inspired by his own grandparents) of a couple in mining Yorkshire, where coal is king.
Directed with sensitive insight by Helen Wernham, it challenges the normal structure of plays; stage directions are spoken in the opening coal-dusted narrative, against a moody monochrome projection of a mineshaft (evocative design by Peter Cook).
We meet Jack (a masterful, at times mercurial and yet tender portrayal by Gareth Saunders) and Liz (the fabulously fastidious Melanie Sherwood) as an old couple reminiscing delightfully about Mario Lanza in the flickering firelight to a lovely nostalgic soundscape by Stuart McCubbin.
In a rejuvenating reverse sequence, we see the couple ‘youthen’, embracing life events as if they are happening right now – old age, retirement, working down the pit, going on holiday and playing Mr & Mrs (a hilarious interlude, with the inebriated Liz in her lurex best cardi and Jack as the smooth satin-blazered compère) their marriage, childbirth and courtship… these moments made more glorious by the skilful use of light and sound, including a beautiful sunset and a star-filled sky.
The versatile Melanie also plays a bloke in a boozer, a disinterested pillbox-hatted usherette, and also makes a delicious splash as her own grandson in a wonderfully funny bath scene with Granddad.
They laugh, cry and fight together. Yet theirs is an indestructible bond that endures. There’s a truthful timeless quality to this little piece of Yorkshire with nowt taken out.
We felt privileged to share this delightful and intimate theatrical gem – don’t miss it!