A family affair
“It’s serious, it’s seldom spoken about, people sometimes feel elation, in other ways it’s like a bereavement,” says John Godber.
The playwright is speaking about the condition popularly known as empty nest syndrome, that sensation when the children of the family take wing and leave their parents behind.
“The more people that go off to university, the greater this issue will become, with people looking at each other and asking ‘where did our lives go?’.”
Godber, as is his way, has turned these questions into a play which received its premiere at Theatre Royal Wakefield last night.
The Empty Nesters’ Club explores that question of what happens in that moment when you look at the person you spent your life raising children with and wonder if there is a stranger in the house.
“We premiered a shorter version of the show last year and it was really successful,” says Godber. “It feels like a story worth telling. I’m one of many who has had this experience; your kids grow up, you water them and feed them and pay for them, then they go off to university and you’re left looking at your wife wondering ‘well what happened there?’ You start to get to know your partner – or not, as the case may be.”
Again Godber has found a subject which millions across the land have experienced and put his words to work trying to find something out about it.
“You try to live in the real world and look at what’s happening to you and your friends and family and I realised that this was an issue affecting so many people that I know,” he says. “This feels like one of those projects that we can all relate to and buy into, but that hasn’t actually been told yet. I’m hoping the play is the start of people talking about the subject.”
There it is: Godber’s need to find not just a subject that will amuse, but one that will give him the opportunity to say something. With the writer of Bouncers and Teechers, the politics of the thing are never far from the surface.
“The rising cost of education is something I address, along with the cost of getting on the property ladder. My degree cost me eight hundred quid, my daughter’s is costing her eight grand. While the play is funny, it’s touching on some serious themes. Some people won’t go to university because they can’t reconcile going with the amount of potential debt they’ll have when they leave. Plays can be funny, but it only means something if it connects to now.”
Speaking to his father about the experience when Godber himself left for university, the first in his family to do so, has revealed a layer of emotional truth to the story he is telling. “I was talking to my dad about the play, he’s 86 now. He said ‘when you went to Leeds uni me and your mam were in bits’.
“They never articulated any of that to me at the time, I sailed off thinking ‘look at me aren’t I great,’ living in Headingley, and they were at home in tears. I’d just gone down the road.
“Goodness knows what happens when one of them turns around and says ‘I’m off to Cambodia’.”
The Empty Nesters’ Club is at Wakefield Theatre Royal to February 4. Tickets 01924 211311, then touring.