This is not Right
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 2nd October 2019
“pulls you into its world and keeps you there with beautifully observed performances and a gripping story”
This is Not Right is John Godber’s latest play, set in his old stomping ground – Hull. Specifically, a Hull council estate which throughout the play is painted as a very bleak and toxic environment. Perhaps this is why it has been specially rewritten for Wilton’s Music Hall – the minimalist set lends itself to the derelict appearance of the venue, creating the effect of being stuck in the past, a massive part of the play’s identity. The minimalism continues with the lack of recorded sound – instead music is provided by a discordant violin courtesy of Sophie Bevan and changes in setting are shown through the cast’s soundscapes. These feel like appropriate choices for the piece, although with only four actors the soundscapes are somewhat limited and don’t always paint a clear picture.
This is Not Right follows the story of Holly (Martha Godber) through her childhood and early adult life, focusing on the difficulties of growing up in a poor neighbourhood with a doting but very overprotective father (Jamie Smelt), who tries to guard his daughter from danger but only succeeds in pushing her further away. When Holly eventually flies the nest, she breaks contact with Dad in her determination to become independent, but when London life doesn’t work out for her she is forced to “do the thing I said I’d never do” and return home. The overall story is wonderfully engaging with an expertly crafted marriage of beautifully heartfelt moments and witty observational comedy, however the last twenty minutes or so feel like something of a stalemate. Conflict between Holly and Dad continues with the climax being a vaguely political argument about girls going missing, followed by a fight with the noisy neighbours. There are no revelations for either character and the play concludes rather abruptly with Holly leaving to stay at her Gran’s.
Perhaps this is the point John Godber is trying to make – that sometimes things don’t change and life trudges on regardless. Echoing the title, Holly’s last line is “this is not right, is it?” Could that refer to things not changing? Is it a general comment on life in working class Hull? Or girls going missing? For me, it is unclear what ‘is not right’, and the ending feels decidedly washed out, letting down an otherwise spellbinding tale.
John Godber’s direction is triumphant – the acting is superb. Martha Godber performs with a wild energy encapsulating all the hormonal mood swings expected from a teenager; it erupts during scenes with Dad yet is also deftly woven into her narration. Holly’s development in maturity and experience as the play’s timeline advances is also commendably reflected in Godber’s portrayal. Jamie Smelt’s performance is the one that stays with me, however. It is touchingly vulnerable – a poignant, considered portrait of the hapless Dad as he attempts to get through to his daughter. Parents in the audience may find themselves painfully relating – the tragicomedy of his tactlessness and the genuine desperation as he realises Holly is slipping away from him are both etched into the performance. Sophie Bevan and Lamin Touray complete the picture with overall solid supporting characters, although I found Touray’s lack of Belgian accent for Harvey a confusing choice.
Overall, This is Not Right is a play which pulls you into its world and keeps you there with beautifully observed performances and a gripping story. Although you may leave wanting slightly more from its resolution, it is immensely enjoyable – just make sure you leave your ‘HULL AND PROUD’ sweater at home.
Reviewed by Sebastian Porter
Photography © John Godber Company
This is not Right
Wilton’s Music Hall until 5th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: