JOHN Godber’s play Happy Families draws on the author’s experience of his own family life.

The play’s title is somewhat ironic – something the playwright would surely agree with.

But for Huddersfield actor Alex Watkins, who plays John Godber in the Huddersfield Thespians version of Happy Families, he won’t be drawing on his own family experience for his father, Alistair Cheetham, will be just off-stage as its director.

Thankfully, all is harmonious in family and theatre life, unlike that experienced by Godber himself.

Happy Families is an autobiographical but dramatised look at Godber’s life from 1967 to his graduation day in 1978.

It sees Godber looking back on his teenage years with warmth, remembering the joys, tensions and sorrows of family life. But now older and educated, he finds himself alienated from his working class family who can’t understand his theatrical aspirations.

Godber’s vision of his own life is hazy, the truth may be exaggerated, but Happy Families is Godber’s view of his own life.

Alex, aged 20, said: “I like the play, I think it’s well written, structured and it has some emotional scenes and funny scenes – John goes through a real range of emotions.

“I can relate to his age by trying to think of how I thought as a teenager or being at university as I am now.

“But from the audience’s point of view he is sometimes unlikeable. When he’s the narrator and talks to the audience he’s funny, but he’s also older and wiser.

“In the scenes when John is young he’s a kid so you can forgive some of his traits, but in most of the second act he is not likeable. He shouts at his parents, is sarcastic and sometimes nasty – he is not beyond redemption, when he apologises it is heartfelt, but there is part of him which the audience may not like.”

Alex’s own father, Alistair Cheetham, directs Happy Families for the second time, having previously directed it for the Shelley Perridot Players in 2009.

Directing his son is not a problem. They’ve appeared on stage together and it was Alex’s interest in theatre which encouraged Alistair to follow his theatrical dream too.

Alistair said: “Alex went to Oscars Academy and his involvement was what finally got me involved, I’d always been interested in theatre but things got in the way so Alex has got as much experience as I have in theatre.”

Alistair is relishing the chance to direct this play and LBT theatregoers may be surprised by the way it is staged.

Alistair adds: “When I last directed Happy Families it was at Shelley Village Hall with the audience around the stage looking on as if they’re voyeurs.

“When I was asked to direct again for the LBT I knew we had to do something to make the venue more intimate.

“I think people may be surprised by how we’ve allowed them to observe and look in on family life in this way.”

Alex, as John, is supported by parents Vic and Dot, played by Steve Marsden and Melanie Hudson in the five-day run.

Alistair adds: “Some actors have problems with long dialogue, others with snappy dialogue, Alex has both to deal with.

“One thing he will have to do with the character is make John likeable and make the audience warm to him when he’s narrating, even though he’s generally not likeable at other times.

“I think the people who will be able to relate to John will be anyone who has come to realise – and it can be a hard thing to accept – they are the most intelligent person in their family.

“He sees this distance between himself and his family.”

It’s not a problem father and son have off-stage – they discuss their roles in the car to and from rehearsals or in the pub.

And while the part will challenge Alex, who has to play John aged nine, 11, during his university years and later on, he’s not fazed by the challenge.

“I get nervous but I manage to turn it into some weird form of excitement,” Alex adds.

A drama and creative writing student at Kingston University, Alex is keeping his options open for the future.

“I do want to be an actor and will pursue that as far as I can, hopefully to a professional level. But I’m not so fixated that I can’t see it is a difficult profession.

“I love creative writing too so that gives me options.”

Options were something John Godber himself had and while the playwright’s family may not have been supportive when he pursued his theatrical dream, Alex is in a more privileged position to have his family’s support – but for a week he has to pretend otherwise on stage.

l See Happy Families at the LBT from Tuesday, January 17 until Saturday, January 21 with a matinee at 2.15pm. Tickets from the Box Office on 01484 430528 or