British export ‘September in the Rain’ evokes a bygone era

The Kansas City Star

The prolific John Godber is reputed to be the third-most-produced playwright in Britain after William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn, but I don’t believe theatergoers in Kansas City had ever seen one of his works until the final weekend of “British Invasion 2011.”

This mini-festival presented by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and Central Standard Theatre allowed a small caravan of British theater artists to perform solo works for small but welcoming audiences. Most of the plays had not been performed here before, and I have to say the Brits were a huge breath of fresh air.

Elizabeth Thomas and David Baxter in "September in the Rain" (Blackout Theatre)

Godber’s “September in the Rain” is a sweet, funny and keenly observed two-hander about a Yorkshire couple recalling their annual vacations to Blackpool, the seaside tourist mecca on England’s west coast.

David Baxter and Elizabeth Thomas of the Blackout Theatre Company in Bedford, England, played Jack and Liz, a coal miner and a housewife, who unveiled their history in monologues and scenes carried along by Godber’s economical but evocative dialogue.

This a bittersweet play — sometimes very funny, ultimately hauntingly poignant. Baxter is a burly actor who inhabits Jack with no trace of artifice. Thomas is a short powerhouse who demonstrated an impressive emotional range in this piece.

The play evokes a version of Blackpool from an earlier era — a place of beach bathing, ballroom dancing, musicals at the Winter Gardens and visits to museums of curiosities and grotesqueries for largely working-class tourists. (My main reference for Blackpool is the 1960 film “The Entertainer,” which was based on John Osborne’s play about a fading music-hall star. Some of the film was shot in Blackpool, and even then the movie suggested a city that had seen better days.)

Liz and Jack bicker constantly, but their love runs deep. And their marriage survives the annual vacations, which include absurdly small hotel rooms, rainy days, Jack’s volatile temper, traffic jams on the highway and carnival-like hucksters on the pier.

It all falls on the actors in a play that requires little more than two chairs and some suitcases. And they take us on a journey from the young Jack and Liz visiting Blackpool in their first car to the aged couple who can no longer drive but travel to Blackpool by bus.

At the Sunday afternoon performance, it was a trip worth taking.

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© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources

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