Writer/Director: John Godber
Co-Director: Neil Sissons
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Initially, John Godber made his name with ensemble plays, often based around an activity, rugby league or night-clubbing or school or whatever, with an expertly managed switching of role rather than character development, but some of his best work has been in rather more restrained two-handers. As he has grown older, these seem to have become more reflective and are particularly piquant when played with humanity and unforced naturalness by Godber and his wife and long-time theatrical partner, Jane Thornton.
The Scary Bikers falls into that category. It’s not really the best title, suggesting something rather more farcical and over-the-top than we get. Godber, as usual, starts with a simple idea: two very different people, widowed and on the wrong end of middle age, decide to go on a bike trek to Florence (doing chunks of the journey by train), with conscious irony departing to Europe on the day when the UK votes to depart from Europe.
There is thus a fair bit of nifty synchronised pedalling on the tandem that dominates the pleasing cafe/shop set and a number of the sort of disasters one expects: getting lost near Ghent (farcical fun with a tent), a midnight dash to hospital in Pisa when Carol shows symptoms of a heart attack. However, these are part of a larger package.
The play begins in the biking cafe/shop which Carol runs in memory of her late husband, with Don sweeping and keeping an eye on things. Swapping the narrative between them, they tell the story of the epic ride to Florence over a year previously, but more especially the story of their bereavement. The first stage of the play considers loss and loneliness – and moves on to the need for companionship. Don and Carol from different backgrounds twice meet accidentally before a shared love of cycling brings about the great adventure.
The Scary Bikers was commissioned by Art 50 which invited responses to the triggering of Article 50 to leave the European Union. Godber clearly finds it surprising that such huge numbers voted for Brexit in many areas of Yorkshire, including Wakefield. He tries for an answer in a scene near Pisa where Don and Carol, whose disagreement about this has been simmering, and have their out-and-out political/personal confrontation. Don, the Brexiteer, advances two reasons: the clowns in office have been ignoring the wishes and needs of working people for too long, so are not to be believed – a view not without substance – and the NHS will receive £350 million extra a week – a totally misguided view based on a lie, as Don monosyllabically concedes later in the play.
John Godber and Jane Thornton are effortlessly (apparently) convincing as Don, the ex-miner turned hospital porter, and Carol, the teacher/failed artist who is financially secure thanks to the successful career of her husband, a junior schoolmate of Don. It’s the timing of the lines, the easy interplay and the lack of unnecessary emphasis that show their degree of empathy.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed