CW Blog: Conversation with Up ‘n’ Under’s Director Jeni Draper

Up ‘n’ Under Director Jeni Draper talks to us about how she discovered the work of John Godber and how she went about adapting this classic…

When I left drama school I was drawn to physical theatre shows. I remember seeing Steven Berkoff and Linda Marlowe in Decadence, and loved their performances.

Then I watched John Godber’s wonderful play Bouncers. I left acknowledging these actors were supremely talented, playing multiple characters, whole heartedly embodying each one. Visual storytelling, pictures created, minimum set and props – it took my imagination somewhere else – the words and performers.

Fast forward over the years, still with my passion for physical theatre, I knew I wanted to direct a Godber show for fingersmiths, staying true to his style but adding our own too.

We’re a touring theatre company working with Deaf actors using British Sign Language and hearing actors with great voices. Put the two together with Godber’s writing – we’re in sensory heaven! Up ’n’ Under is next in our series of re-imagining popular plays known to the hearing world but lesser known in the Deaf community. With our fingersmiths’ twist, the play becomes relevant to them whilst enabling those familiar with the story, to see it in a new light.

So what is our twist on this one? Our Wheatsheaf team, bottom of the amateur rugby league, are all Deaf sign language users. Arthur, the coach, is hearing and doesn’t sign. How will they communicate, let alone win the bet that’s on the table? In the original story, Arthur works hard to persuade the team to take him on as coach. In ours, he has to work doubly hard, but in another language.

Can Arthur’s team beat Reg’s mighty Cobbler’s team? Godber says his play is an attempt to stage Rocky in Yorkshire. Rocky Balboa the iconic underdog – who doesn’t like an underdog story?!

It’s ripe for some extra visual humour – allowing us to show the everyday communication between Deaf and hearing people – from complete incomprehension, to smoothest interactions and all the juicy options in between. We want our audiences to experience this, as the play’s characters do.


We’re partnering with England Deaf Rugby Union, who will be putting us through our paces during rehearsals. They recently played the New Zealand Deaf team – and magnificently won the test series.

Our work engages with all audiences, so we’ll be having lots of fun with the access elements in our production ensuring everyone can enjoy the great storytelling of Godber’s award winning comedy.

Visually impaired audiences can come to any show. They will experience every element of the play with on stage audio description in every performance. We’re lucky, Willie Elliott is with us – experienced audio describer and accomplished actor. He plays Reg (Arthur’s nemesis), and will audio describe each performance from the stage. You’ll have to come and watch the show to see how he manages the 2 roles!

I’ve got some fun ideas for projecting text – not giving too much away, I’m anticipating some interactions between cast and technology to be on the naughty side….

Our performance style has been described as “HD theatre”. The pictures you’ll see are brighter and clearer, enhancing the story telling. Nowhere demonstrates this clearer than in a Godber play. He’s given us a gift of different ways to tell the story.

We have narrative prose – a dream to present physically; everyday dialogue – a more relaxed informal natural style, contrasting beautifully with the monologues – spoken and signed, talking directly to our audiences. These are my favourites. A chance to show pure bi-lingual storytelling.

For me, the opening speech, has echoes of Henry V St Crispin’s Day speech, rallying his troops before battle. In Up ’n’ Under we are rallying you, the audience, to join us on our battleground of amateur rugby league! Neatly introducing our hero, Arthur, the underdog

We are really looking forward to presenting our version of this well known classic comedy with our fingersmiths’ twist. Do let us know what you think too.

Up ‘n’ Under with be coming to the Canada Water Theatre from Thursday 15 to Saturday 17 February at 7.30pm (and a 3pm Saturday matinee). To book click here. 

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