Theatre Critics: Happy Jack, Richmond, Georgian Theatre Royal

JOHN GODBER wrote Happy Jack in 1982, early in his playwriting career, before the Miners’ Strike of 1984.

It’s proper Yorkshire and, like the famous bread, there’s nowt taken out. It comes with a broad Yorkshire accent, a funny, flat-cap mentality and no pretentions.

Godber was 22 when he wrote the play and says he was a bit of a rebel at the time, wanting to challenge the normal structure of plays.

Using a warts and all philosophy, he wrote about his own parents in a biographical formation, where stage directions are spoken along with some heartwarming narrative observations of life in the pit village.

We meet Jack and Liz as an old couple. He’s the archetypal grumpy old man, quite deaf and shaky, who says “bloody hell” all the time. She punctuates her old age with “you have to laugh” and calls him many things, but mostly Happy Jack because it celebrates his miserable character.

As the couple get younger, we see them going on holiday, playing Mr and Mrs at the holiday camp and becoming grandparents. Life in reverse becomes such a rejuvenating concept.

Jacky Naylor’s performance is such a delight, particularly her unlikely performance as her own grandson having a bath with granddad, which is full of splash and laughter.

Matthew Booth’s deadpan Jack slowly reveals his soft side and is immensely watchable as he reminisces about life down the pit. He writes poetry and loves to listen to Mario Lanza. The younger he gets, the funnier he becomes.

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