Secrets of making a lasting creative partnership work

Jane Thornton and John Godber  Photo: James Drawneek
Jane Thornton and John Godber Photo: James Drawneek
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Being married to John Godber and making your living as a playwright is tricky. Jane Thornton on how she does it.

I’m writing this on the train to Sheffield, where I’m going to meet up with John at the International Student Drama Festival where he is a judge.

It was at the Student Drama festival that we met each other over thirty years ago. I was there with Bretton Hall College and he had taken his students from Minsthorpe High School near Pontefract.

I went to see his play Cramp which was done as a promenade performance and ended up being pushed out of the way by John as he exited from a scene.

“Blimey, he’s big for a sixth former” I thought, nursing my shoulder, until someone informed me that he was the drama teacher, and as it turned out, the first drama teacher to take a comprehensive school to the festival and win all the major awards! Not long after this I applied to go to the Edinburgh Festival with The National Student Theatre Company and was asked to audition for the part of Cynthia Lennon in a play about John Lennon. The director was to be John.

I was told to ring him and we arranged to meet in Leeds where he said that he would pick me up at the station and take me to the audition space. He did pick me up; but the audition space was the back of his car! Not so much the casting couch as the faded elegance of an old green Austin Maxi. Needless to say, I got the job, and we’ve worked together on and off ever since, acquiring a number of Fringe Firsts, two children and a couple of BAFTAs along the way. Our latest joint project, Lost and Found, is at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. We have both written a one act play set in Scarborough, a place we are very fond of, and the plays stand alone but are also connected to each other, a bit like us. My play Lost is set in the first week of the summer season and tells the story of Len and Betty whose forty year marriage has run aground and John’s play Found is set on the last night of the season and concentrates on Tom and Chelsea who have had holiday jobs at the hotel where Len and Betty have been staying.

Essentially, we’ve focused on an old relationship and a new relationship and how today’s society affects them both. The plays are done in very different styles but both are funny and touching, again, just like us. People often ask how we write together. For this project, we both wrote separately then put the two pieces together and made adjustments. I always ask John to read everything I write because he’s written a lot more than me, but he never asks me to read his, which is a worry because I never know what he’s up to; that’s why I’m on the train to Sheffield!

Lost and Found, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, to Sept 1. 01723 370451.

Jane Thornton’s Life in writing

Plays Thornton has written with her husband include Sold, Shakers the Musical and for television the BAFTA winning Oddsquad.

Her own plays include Say it with Flowers, I Want that Hair and Wuthering Heights.

Thornton has also written extensively for radio including two series of Spread A Little Happiness.