Playwright John returns to his roots with Happy Jack

Playwright John Godber is returning to the Minsthorpe Community College where he began writing bringing a new production of his classic play Happy Jack. John (centre) with Liz Fairhurst (vice principal) and John Gregory (principal)
Playwright John Godber is returning to the Minsthorpe Community College where he began writing bringing a new production of his classic play Happy Jack. John (centre) with Liz Fairhurst (vice principal) and John Gregory (principal)
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PLAYWRIGHT John Godber is bringing one of his first plays back to where it all began - Minsthorpe Community College.

Upton-born Mr Godber, who is the third most performed playwright in the UK behind William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn, was head of drama at the school and wrote Happy Jack there in 1982.

After 30 years as artistic director at Hull Truck Theatre, his company is now based at Theatre Royal Wakefield. It has revived the play and is bringing it back to Minsthorpe for one night only next week.

He said: “Part of my involvement with Theatre Royal Wakefield is to have a relationship with the community and since Minsthorpe is part of that community, it seemed natural to bring the play here.

“I believe that a theatre has to have a connection with its community.”

Mr Godber attended the then-called Minsthorpe High School as a pupil from 1968 to 1974 and then returned as a drama teacher training in 1979. He left in 1984. Since then, he’s only returned to the college once, to do a leavers’ speech around three years ago.

He said: “I spent 11 years there, man and boy - that’s a long time. It’s where I started writing for Grange Hill, Crown Court and Brookside.

“In many ways the philosophy at the school back then was years ahead of its time. Education was truly comprehensive - every child did drama, art and music, and that doesn’t happen anymore.

“All the sons and daughters of miners were exposed to the arts - giving people who didn’t have the benefits of a private education the chance to explore creativity.

“I took students to Edinburgh Festival and the National Student Drama Festival - which was unheard of for a school from a mining town. “

Mr Godber still has a relationship with former students who went on to become actors, such as Chris Walker and Adrian Hood. But after the world-wide success of his work, which includes Bouncers and Teechers, he has mixed feelings about the play being performed at the college.

He said: “I’ve got plays being performed all over the world, so part of me thinks, ‘what’s the big deal’. But having a play at Minsthorpe feels very natural, especially since Happy Jack is about South Kirkby, Upton and Frickley Pit.

“I wrote the play whilst I was at Minsthorpe, it was first performed there, and one of the original cast is now my wife (playwright Jane Thornton).”

The play is based on the lives of his grandparents, and highlights the lives of miners and their families.

Mr Godber said: “My grandad worked at Frickley Pit, and he and my gran lived in South Kirkby, and my dad still lives in Upton, so I’ve still got a lot of connections in that part of the world.”

The play stars two local actors, Matthew Booth, who is from Normanton, and Jacky Naylor, who is from Dewsbury. Both have performed Godber’s work extensively, including the recent production of Lost and Found at Theatre Royal Wakefield.

Mr Godber said: “Why pick them? It’s like saying why pick Wayne Rooney. They’re great actors and they are from here.”

Liz Fairhurst, vice principal at Minsthorpe Community College, said: “It is with open arms that we welcome the new John Godber play Happy Jack to be performed here at Minsthorpe Community College.

“We were delighted to receive such a request from John Godber himself and immediately jumped at this wonderful opportunity.

“John Godber began his theatrical days at the College many years ago as the then Head of Drama. We have been lucky enough to have visits from him over the years but nothing as exciting as this.

“Staff, both past and present, as well as students, parents and members of the local community are already rushing to buy tickets for the performance on October 25. We are looking forward to what will be a fantastic evening.”

Happy Jack will be performed at Minsthorpe Community College on Thursday, October 25 at 7.30pm.

Tickets can be purchased from the college reception, on the door or from the Theatre Royal Wakefield box office on 01924 211 311 or online at www.theatreroyalwakefield.co.uk