ComedyDramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Men of the World – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Writer: John Godber

Director: Nick Lane

Set/Lighting: Graham Kirk

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

While John Godber himself completes his tour of Shafted, the John Godber Company has revived his unpretentious and totally enjoyable Men of the World at its home base in Wakefield with cast and creatives that inevitably recall his former fiefdom at Hull Truck. Rob Angell, Dicken Ashworth (both reprising their roles from the first production), Fiona Wass, director Nick Lane and designer Graham Kirk are all perfectly in tune with the Godber style of theatre from many years of working together.

Men of the World is unashamedly anecdotal. Three coach drivers are taking a mystery tour to Scarborough and, through conversation with each other and direct narration to the audience, tell the story of the five-day tour they took to the Rhine with a cranky set of aged passengers. And so the three of them act it out: from the toilet break at Leicester Forest East to the amateurish performance of The Student Prince in Heidelberg.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that nothing happens. Things do happen – one of the male drivers makes a hapless pass at Frank, the female driver, passengers get up to no good in the red light district of Brussels, one of the passengers even dies – but they are just incidents. The real focus is on the comic characters of the coach riding public and the day-to-day routine of a life spent waiting for lost passengers or closing your ears to the sing-song that starts on the M1. The nearest things to plot development are the oldest driver, Larry, deciding not to retire, the simmering animosity between him and Stick flaring briefly into open aggression and Stick getting the tour assignment he has been angling for.

The play and production make a virtue of simplicity. The set is a huge, artistically arranged pile of suitcases, with a few detachable ones which occasionally do duty for a seat. The three drivers are smartly enough turned out in their company blazers and do little more than add a headscarf or a flat cap to change character. The success of the text comes from familiarity and authenticity: Godber has an unerring ear for the cadences of ordinary speech and the repetitions and non-sequiturs of advancing years.

Dicken Ashworth’s Larry is a kindly soul, not exempt from the curse of the repeated phrase (“Nearly there!”) and obsessed with Mario Lanza. This brings one of the few over-the-top moments in the play, but nicely handled, with a gentle absurdity. Ashworth also memorably sketches the ex-miner whose response to every situation is to say he would have done it differently and the old biddy echoing the words of Fiona Wass’ cheese sandwich freak. Wass, a haven of good sense as Frank, is brilliantly toe-curling as the cabaret turn in Folkestone, the nearest thing to a full costume change all night. Rob Angell is drolly dour as Stick, longing for a busload of schoolgirls and proposing shooting anyone over the age of 73, and ranges far and wide from a laconic pitman to a would-be lady-like snob.

The music, from the opening The sun has got his hat on to oom-pah bands, brass bands and an explosion of Sigmund Romberg, is the ideal complement to an undemanding, skilfully paced and very funny entertainment.

Touring Regionally | Image: Contributed

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