Christopher returns to Scarborough after 40 years

Christopher Godwin in Better Off Dead, written & directed by Alan Ayckbourn, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Christopher Godwin in Better Off Dead, written & directed by Alan Ayckbourn, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

It has been 40 years since Christopher Godwin last took on a Sir Alan Ayckbourn leading role in Scarborough.

This year he is back in town playing the leading role of irascible and yet charming detective fiction writer Algy Waterbridge in Ayckbourn’s 82nd play Better Off Dead.

This makes it a triple for Christopher – in that he has now played in the three Ayckbourn Scarborough venues – the library, Westwood and the Round at the Stephen Joseph.

Christopher calls Sir Alan ‘Al’ – an honour he has earned from a friendship which began in the 1960s when they were both actors.

“Alan’s are well-made plays, they have a structure you can trust,” said Christopher who appeared in Ayckbourn’s Scarborough season from 1971 until 1978 and most famously as Norman in the Norman Conquests.

“It has been said before but it is worth saying again that Alan is the English Chekov.

“He has a very good insight into human nature and the inter-relationships between men and women, the way in which people approach life and what life does to them,” he said.

This is true of Better Off Dead which deals with the relationship between Algy and his wife who is suffering from dementia, our ability to distinguish between fiction and reality and the inexorable fact of ageing.

Christoper is joined in the cast by Eileen Battye, Russell Dixon, Liz Jadav, Laurence Pears, Naomi Petersen and Leigh Symonds.

It begins with Algy writing a new book in his series about DCI Tommy Middlebrass and preparing for an interview with a journalist who claims to have been at school with Algy.

His wife is, as Chris describes it, “getting yonderly” and his PA has to increasingly sort out his life’s priorities.

It is dark, often witty, and as different from Joking Apart, the Ayckbourn revival in this year’s Stephen Joseph season as Talking Steps was from A Brief History of Women in last year’s programme.

“Alan is constantly reinventing himself, this is different to any other play of his,” said Christopher.

It does, though, have one thing in common with all other Ayckbourn plays including the lightest of his comedies.

“Alan has a unique ability to prepare us with laughter and at the same time hit you between the eyes with emotiobal truth.”

Christopher needed no persuading to return to Scarborough to act in an Ayckbourn.

He read the part in an Ayckbourn gala last year and noticing the 2018 date in the notes: “I asked ‘Is this next year’s play’ and Alan said ‘Are you interested?’ and I said ‘Yes I am’.

“It’s a delight to be able to work with him again.”

Algy is a complex character.

“I am exisiting on three levels,” said Christopher. “There is the writing and the character he is writing, his status, as he imagines it, as a major writer and all the luggage that goes with that and him dealing with his domestic situation, which he knows he has to get a grasp off but hasn’t.”

During the 1970s Christopher and his wife Christine lived in Scalby and their two sons, Tom and Ben, were born here.

Tom is playing Phil Spector in the musical Tina in the West End and Ben is a music teacher – and also doing a course on computer coding.

When he first left the Stephen Joseph, Christopher tried to commute between here and London but the 240-mile one-way commute was too much.

“After doing eight shows a week I would leave the theatre on Saturday night and drive home to Scarborough and then be back on the road to London on Monday.”

The family relocated to London, where they still live, and have maintained strong links with the town.

They return each year to see friends and visit the theatre. Christopher was also in A Woman in Black with his son Tom at the Stephen Joseph in 2015.

It was directed by Robin Herford who also has a long association with Aykbourn and the Stephen Joseph.

Christopher also appeared in Ben Brown’s All Things Considered in the McCarthy studio in the 1990s.

His CV is extensive.

Most recently he has appeared in Amadeus – music by Scarborough-born Simon Slater who wrote the soundtrack for this year’s The 39 Steps at Scarborough.

He was in This House at the National Theatre which later went to the Chichester Festival Theatre and then the Garrick.

For the Royal Shakespeare Company he was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The City Madam, Cardenio, The Canterbury Tales, Cymbeline, The Tamer Tamed, The Taming of the Shrew, The Devil is an Ass and The Relapse.

He has a wealth of theatrical anecdotes including being congratulated on his performance in the London Production of Ten Times Table by “an American man whose face I knew but just could not place” – that turned out to be Hollywood film legend Burt Lancaster.

TV includes: The Miniaturist, Harley and the Davidsons, The Hollow Crown II,

Dark Matters, My Family, Land Girls, After You’ve Gone, Lead Balloon, Waking the Dead, Murder in Mind, Casualty, Strange, The Bill, The Innocents, Mortimer’s Law, Prince Among Men and My Family and Other Animals.

Next he is taking Better Off Dead to the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on Windermere and after that ... “some times you have no idea what will happen,” said Christopher.

Better Off Dead is running in rep with Ayckbourn’s Joking Apart at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until Saturday October 6.

Joking Apart is about golden couple Richard and Anthea – for whom life is a bed of roses – and the affect they have over the years on their friends.

Tickets for both shows can be booked on 01723 370541 or via the website: www.sjt.uk.com