SEPTEMBER In The Rain is a real family affair for playwright and director John Godber.
He based it on the relationship between his grandparents, took the title from his mother’s favourite song – and then acted in it alongside his wife, Jane.
“I wrote September in the Rain as a companion piece to an earlier play, Happy Jack, which was truly inspired by my grandfather, Jack Deakin, a giant of a man, and his little wife, Liz, who mostly controlled his tempers,” says John.
“Jack had been orphaned and was a volatile, but loving character who adored his two daughters, my mum and my aunty.
“In many ways the relationship of Jack and Liz is an amalgam of my parents heated but loving relationship, my grandparents stoical brooding relationship, and that of my wife Jane and I, which is brutally honest and hopefully healthy.
“We are still able to argue about anything and do, daily!”
Jane had appeared in Happy Jack along with Andrew Livingston, but he was unavailable when John was considering a sequel to take to Edinburgh in 1983.
“I stood in, went to Edinburgh and Jane and I became an item,” he recalls. “Thirty odd years later she is still Mrs Godber. September in the Rain was the first play we ever did together and Radio Four recorded us as their classic theatre slot in the play almost two years ago.”
The play charts the life of a Yorkshire couple – played in the latest production by The Fast Show’s John Thomson and former Brookside star Claire Sweeney (inset) – told through their annual
summer holiday jaunts across the Pennines to Blackpool.
It’s a bitter sweet affair but John says: “September In The Rain was my mother’s favourite song, especially when sung by Jo Stafford. After having flown to LA to see Bouncers win seven Los Angeles Drama Circle Awards in 1986, my mother told me that I should write something nice like September in the Rain.
“Why did I always want to write about the gutter?” I felt like George Bernard Shaw.”
Although the play is filled with bickering, the writer says there’s a real underlying sense of affection.
“Jack and Liz are two people for whom language is not their most comfortable form of communication,” he explains.
“The affection within the play is demonstrated through love and tears, and in many ways the non-verbal aspects of the play, the body language, the gestures and posturing are just as important as language itself for a miner and his wife.
“Jack is a man for whom noise, black soot, aggression and death were a daily reality.
“We see them desperately seeking to find each other and hoping to express their deeply held feelings in awkward ways in Blackpool, in the rain, rather obviously in September.
“September was the miners’ week’s holiday in West Yorkshire.”
Having played Jack opposite his own wife, John is still happy to direct John and Claire in the roles, saying: “Every actor brings something new to a part, and I guess John and Claire recognise something of themselves or people they know in this simple but deeply human tale.
“A director told me 20 years ago that September was one of the few plays that communicated what love is. Maybe it has stood the test of time because that is true?
“We need love in the theatre at any time, and perhaps we need to see it expressed more openly in this fast-paced, digital, insensitive age more than ever, since despite whatever we may think about the world, if you cut us, we bleed.”
September In The Rain opens at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, on Monday (November 18) and runs until Saturday, November 23.