After 26 years, curtain falls on John Godber

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The Independent Culture

John Godber has written the country's most frequently performed plays, but for audiences in Hull, they have appeared one too many times. The playwright has ended his 26-year formal association with one of the city's theatres in typically dramatic style after accusations of "cronyism".

Olivier award-winning playwright Godber, known for his observational dramas, has ceased his 26-year formal partnership with Hull Truck Theatre after two months in a new role as artist-in-residence. Godber's latest production at the theatre was a box office flop. The theatre has recently come under fire for its over-reliance on Godber's plays.

"The theatre and playwright will have a more informal relationship in the future," said a Hull Truck Theatre spokesperson, who confirmed the reversal of a recent decision to pay Godber a retainer. "[It is] something which both allows John more options to work outside of Hull Truck and is of great help to the theatre in times of significant cuts to the arts."

Godber, 54, has penned more than 50 shows since his debut, a 1976 adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. He is reportedly the most widely-performed playwright in Britain behind Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn.

He became artistic director of the Hull Truck Theatre in 1983 and was later appointed creative director. In July, he became artist-in-residence when Andrew Smaje was appointed the theatre's new chief executive.

Last month, Hull City Council cut the theatre's funding by £100,000 for the financial year beginning April 2011. Arts Council funding for the same period will be reduced by £40,000.

The theatre moved to different premises in the city last year, and was greeted with a surge in audience numbers, but in May a £20,000 production of Godber's adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a box office flop, with performances abandoned due to lack of attendance. The production attracted criticism for its high budget.

The theatre denied Godber was cutting all ties with the theatre. "The move from a formal relationship to a more informal one is not as radical as it sounds," said the theatre spokesperson. "John's roles as creative director, then artist-in-residence, were always that of an independent artist whose services were secured through a retainer."

Hull Truck and Godber will collaborate on new productions of The Christmas Office Party and April in Paris. The latter ends a national tour with a two week run at Hull Truck next June.

Godber, whose plays have been performed around the world, was unavailable for comment. Earlier this year he said: "Every writer has the right to fail. In the last 26 years, every project bar one that I have been involved with here has either broken even or made the company money." Godber has also written for Brookside and Grange Hill.