Theatre: LUCKY SODS Hampstead Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
Suppose your little daughter had been killed in a car accident from which you yourself had walked away uninjured. Then imagine that, six years later, thanks to your wife interfering with your numbers that week, you won pounds 2m on the lottery. "Why us?" you'd ask in each case. But what had been a tragic question the first time would now resurface as a nervy, superstitious one. Perhaps you'd be torn between guilt that fate had made you this lavish, tactless and inadequate reparation and a feeling that these were your just desserts for having been put through so much suffering. Of course, the money and the freedom might make you wonder whether the bond of the dead daughter was still strong enough to keep the two of you together.

For people who would like a thoughtful dramatisation of these issues, John Godber's Lucky Sods is not quite the play. It introduces you to a stereoptypical, bickering working-class Northern marriage. Like the husband in his last comedy, April in Paris, roly-poly security guard Morris (Iain Rogerson) is the kind of distrustful stay-at-home who can say, without irony, "Hollywood? I'd rather go to Bridlington." Once again, it's the wife, Jean (Christine Cox), who has the unappeased appetite for life.

Childlessness, which made itself felt only tacitly in the previous work, puts in a more explicit appearance here, and the stakes are upped on the "luck" front, too. No mere one-day break in Paris for this pair, but an enormous lottery win which Godber, who is nothing if not a skilled theatre technician, presents cleverly. The electricity is cut off (thanks to the husband's failure to pay the bill) just as the numbers are being announced on TV. When the lights go up again on stage, the couple are downing champagne and engaging in strained merriment with Jean's sister Annie (Janet Dibley) and her nerdy husband Norman (Nicholas Lane), whose joint jealousy of their newly rich relations emerges in details like their unusual, conscience- prodding nosiness about the begging letters.

Thinning its themes rather than enriching them, Lucky Sods then sets up a mechanical pattern whereby Jean goes on winning fabulous amounts and, just as repeatedly, ill fortune strikes the family in other ways, as Morris leaves her for an old flame, Connie ( Janet Dibley again), and her sister gets cancer, and so on. Rather than properly explore the subtle difficulties described at the start of this review, Godber's likeably acted play opts for easy exaggeration and comic-grotesque situations in which, say, a cancer-ridden woman is shown as being so preoccupied with having come up trumps at long last on the lottery that she can cackle in wild elation, quite oblivious of the recently bereaved brother-in- law who needs her comfort.

The play opened the week the lottery was debated at the Lib Dem conference and in which a multi-millionaire jackpot winner (whose lawyer let it be known that he had recently made an anonymous donation to the police to help solve crimes involving children) was jailed for 18 months for handling three stolen vehicles. On the psychological effects of winning, and on the debate about the ethics of a lottery, there will be better plays than Lucky Sods, which barely glances at the latter. But with theatres standing to benefit, though, will there ever be an out-and-out anti-lottery play? Not, I suspect, at the Royal Court.

n To 21 Oct. Booking: 0171-722 9301

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