Review: Living on Fresh Air (Touring)

Friday 31st March 2023 at Harrogate Theatre


Born, raised and residing in Yorkshire, John Godber has just the kind of grounding needed to write a comedy like this. Tapping affectionately into the frugal Yorkshireman stereotype, he offers an unapologetic commentary on the politics of now while painting a grim vision of 2033 Britain – delivering all with the distinctive brusque style of a Yorkshireman eager to get back to whatever it was he was doing before the world started acting up.

The fourth wall is broken from the start as retired couple Caroline and Dave chat to us like fellow walkers on their latest hike. Their reflections on lockdown as a thing of the past feels a little too soon for my liking, but the projections of a future formed by the ever tightening grip of today’s issues feels ripe for the picking. It’s not subtle, this take-down, and really it doesn’t need to be. With a cost of living crisis making all but the most minted keep a concerned eye on bills and basics and extra charges alike, there’s a lot of relatable material to be found in Godber’s writing.

Extreme “solutions” to ridiculous problems caused by an opportunistic and shameless government offer as much judgement as they do punchlines (although the apathy of the everyman is as much in the firing line). There’s relatable bickering, a Victor Meldrew-ish fixation on minutiae now that the minutiae really does matter and some entertaining parent-child dynamics to enjoy. But this is a relatively tame script and while the Godber wit and usual sharp social commentary is here, it’s more mildly sobering than knee-slapping fun.

Godber, aside from writing and co-directing alongside Neil Sissons, also stars in this new work. There’s definitely a sense of seeing a writer knowing how to find the best moments of his own work in performance. Together with Jane Thornton, he creates an easy sense of reality biting an ordinary couple who should be enjoying their best years of retirement and are instead pinioned by circumstances beyond their control. Thornton is also particularly entertaining as the representative rebellious mid-lifer spurred to action by rage and frustration. Peter MacMillan completes the cast as Nick, the returning son – pockets ransacked by the London housing market, he heads home to recover and finds himself unable to pick up where he left off, childhood-home-as-hotel-wise. Together, the trio offer an entertaining array of perspectives across generations.

If nothing else, this new play is a reassuring force, showing that we are not alone in our concerns about where we’re all headed if this spiral of bad luck, apathy and outright daylight robbery continues. The laughs are here to be had, and the material readily allows us to engage with shared exasperation and incredulousness. Yet while the ridiculous is often the punchline, it is also very much our reality, so the jokes – maybe inevitably – don’t reach the heights of real hilarity. Living on Fresh Air is entertaining new work, but even with Godber’s skill, the truth can sometimes be a bit too tough for belly laughs!

Living on Fresh Air is at Harrogate Theatre until April 8th 2023 – you can find tickets here. The show then continues to tour until May 4th 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

Images credits: Liam Foster, Sara Kruger

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