Long-distance coach trips. Short-break holidays. Old-age pensioners. You get the picture, or you think you do. John Godber’s 2002 comedy Men of the World has been revived by Hull Truck for 2010 and retains both its bite and its relevance, even though politics, economics and attitudes to the ageing process have somewhat blurred over eight years. Of course that the author is also the director may have aided the process.
Three actors play all the parts. These include the seen-it-all-before trio of coach-drivers and a cross-section of their passengers on a four-day trip to Heidelberg. This assorted gaggle include an elderly couple and their stay-at-home middle-aged son; three former miners, of whom one is constantly moaning that things could have been better made; three women friends on what will turn out to be the last holiday for one of them and a rather snobbish couple whose business has failed.
Head scarves and flat caps denote the external assumption of character. The skill of the actors makes the personal and sexual shifts absolutely convincing. Pip Leckenby’s set helps; it’s a wall-mounted outline map suggesting motorways and rural roads, geographical or political boundaries and waterways. The cast wears formal jackets, ties and trousers and – scarves and caps apart – the only properties are suitcases, a positive miscellany of them.
Dicken Ashworth as Larry, due to retire as a driver after this last trip, and Sarah Parks as Frank, the woman driver who by and large accepts her world as it has turned out to be, are very good and both are effective in all the roles they assume, notably the gender-swapping ones. Parks in particular is superb as the old miner and as a cabaret singer whose voice and stand-up routine have both seen better days. Ashworth makes the go-along-with-it older woman very moving and you also believe in him as the driver who cares about his passengers.
Stick, the slightly younger driver who hates his endless geriatric bus-loads with passion and would much prefer to be on the Spanish route with a much younger female clientele, is a less sympathetic person and Robert Angell makes no attempt to soften his impact, whether bristling against the gay couple who run the Folkestone bed-and-breakfast from which the coach parties leave for Eurotunnel and that magical place – abroad, or arguing with his colleagues. Angell also plays a wide range of other characters, notably the husband coping with an ailing wife.