I think it must have been back in the 70s when I first saw scaffolding appearing on stage. Hard-pressed theatre companies discovered that using scaffolding – or ‘scaff’ as it was known in the business – was a cheap and easy way to create scenery. You could disguise it greatly; paint it, hang cloths and flats on it, build platforms and pretend it’s a row of houses. But it has taken John Godber to actually place it, naked, centre stage, and write a play about it.
The scaffolding tower in question has been erected by three gob-shite builders on the acting area of a posh provincial theatre. The plan is to fix the roof. But the builders are three weeks behind schedule and a world premiere is due on stage at 7.30; starring, as they discover, “what’s-her-name off tele”. All of this sets up a hugely promising study of the cultural divide between striving artists and philistine workmen.
It’s a great idea … which sadly dribbles to nothing.
Unfortunately for Mr Godber, his play immediately follows two of Alan Ayckbourn’s at the New Vic. And whilst Ayckbourn’s writing is maturing like a fine wine, Godber’s is fast disappearing down a Tabloid plughole. If ‘Poles Apart’ is intended to be a metaphor for working class power – it fails miserably.
It is actually an embarrassment to watch. The arguments are confused. The points are overblown and bawled out. And I think it’s safe to say that uncouth jokes about having sex with Princess Diana will never be funny.
Mindless mocking of the theatre also sits uncomfortably with people paying good money to faithfully support it. I’ve never seen an audience so reluctant to go back for the second half.
There are practical problems too. Three of the actors have extreme, flat accents and shout so many of their lines they are difficult to follow …especially when facing the other way. I tried moving seats, but to no avail. This had been pointed out at the Wakefield performances last month and the fact that nothing has been done about such basic barriers to comprehension also shows contempt for the audience.
Tragically, the scaffolding itself eventually gets in the way of a fiery denouement; slicing up the conclusion Godber is trying to make.
Early on, one of the builders opines, “Someone should write a play about us.” To which his workmate replies, “That would be boring”.
I rest my case.
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Photo ; Amy Charles Media