Men of the World by John Godber
The Lichfield Players at the Lichfield Garrick Studio theatre
Tuesday 23 May 2023
The Lichfield Player’s latest production takes us not only on a mystery coach trip but also on a trip back in time to Blair’s Britain, to the summer of 2002, a time when, pre-Covid, coach trips across the country, and the continent, were a very popular Summer Holiday for us Brits.
Men of the World is written by John Godber, one of Britain’s most consistent, and reliable, comedic writers. Responsible for theatre productions including Shakers, Up’n’Under, On the Piste and Bouncers, as well as writing for TV shoes including Grange Hill and Coronation Street. Born in West Yorkshire, Godber often uses Northern scenes and characters within his plays, as he does with Men of the World, which was first performed on stage in Sheffield, in September 2002, a performance that was directed by Godber himself.
The play centres around three slightly world-weary, and much travelled, coach drivers who recall their latest mystery trip tour and the collection of eccentrics and oddball passengers who accompanied them. Stick, Larry and Frank(ie) are the three drivers, the youngest being Stick who has a deep hatred of all of his passengers and would drive them over the cliffs of Beachy Head if he could. Veteran Larry is very close to retirement and cannot wait to put his feet up after his final trip. Frank desperately tries to keep the peace between the two male drivers who bicker and disagree with each other about almost everything.
As the trip set-off on their mystery trip (which turns out be the delights of Germany) they describe the passengers on their own coaches, some of them being regulars on all their trips, and giving them nicknames: the Beverley Sisters, the Marx Brothers, Arsenic and Old Lace etc. As the drivers reminisce about their passengers, they slip in to each of their characters, with a quick-fire costume change each time, to tell the story from the passengers’ point of view. As the coaches weave their way around the contours of the beautiful Rhine, the bickering between the two male drivers escalates and threatens to overturn the holiday charabanc.
Godber is an expert at observational humour and regional differences in characters, and his depiction of the three holidaying ex-miners (Marx brothers’) is brilliantly funny, clearly using his knowledge of the mining North-East, and the memories of his father, a miner, to best comic advantage. There is also an element of the bitter-sweet with Godber’s work too, and there is a strong sense of melancholy throughout the play, especially in the second Act, as you feel an emotive connection with the coach passengers, sitting in their seats, going on the same holiday, to the same places, with the same people, year-after-year-after year. If, like me, you went to the same British seaside resort, in the same cottage, went to the same café and ate at the same fish and chips bar every year on our family holiday – then you will know exactly what Godber tries, and successfully achieves, to put across – Little Britain on Little Holiday.
David Stonehouse, as Stick, Adrian Venables, as Larry and Rosemary Bodger as Frank are all equally entertaining, funny and work so well together as the three multi-tasking, multi-costume-changing characters, playing the comedic moments with great skill and timing, the clashes of experience, age, rank and gender with conviction, and the more poignant moments with empathy and understanding. Lots of funny lines throughout and there is always something amusing about grown men wearing colourful headscarves and grasping clutch bags to their mid-riff a la Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough…A three-hander, two-act play means a lot of lines for each of the characters and they carried this off on night one of the week-long show very impressively. Lovely highlight by Frank (Rosemary Bodger) as the coach group’s night club entertainer, all fright-wig and double-entendre, a very funny cameo.
Directed with style by Ian Davies, it would be quite easy for the characters to become over-the-top and too stereotypical, but the balance in performance was just right. Stage Manager was Carol Talbot, and the stage set was simple in design, but very effective, with the bundle of passenger suitcases being used as props for dramatic effect, the lighting, by Mandy Davies, was effective and the small interludes of classic songs from the decades brought back some memories – including, of course, Sir Cliff Richard with the peerless We’re All Going on a Summer Holiday – joy!
Men of the World is funny, poignant, engaging, clever, thoughtful and has the added benefit of three actors playing 27 different characters – and a trip up the Rhine with that cast is definitely a trip worth making!
Men of the World by the Lichfield Players is on at the Lichfield Garrick Studio theatre from Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 May 2023, start time 7.45pm daily, with matinee at 2.45pm on Saturday 27, includes interval of 20 minutes. Some strong language and adult terms, not suitable for a younger audience.