John Godber is on something of a mission. Following a year which "has not been a brilliant one for my parents" he finds he has "developed more sympathy with older members of society that are trying to live on the money they put away during their working life, only to see it whittled away by changes in interest rates." So saying, he has written a play aimed at the over-55s, hoping to cater to their theatrical tastes as Bouncers did for kids.
Stylistically, Men of the World (a bit of a misnomer given that a third of the characters is female) reverts to the multi-role physical theatre mode of earlier Godber. The set, by Truck stalwart Pip Leckenby, is a box decorated to be evocative of a Michelin road map, with a small window in the back wall revealing like the Holy Grail a gauzed-over picture of Heidelberg Castle. There is no furniture, just a seemingly endless quantity of suitcases constantly being brought on and taken off by our three main protagonists and occasionally sat upon. The three are long distance coach drivers who are charged with carrying pensioners in convoy to Heidelberg and back again to Yorkshire - a device which affords Godber the opportunity to observe and explore the comical quirks of their elderly punters.
Larry (Dicken Ashworth) is making his last trip before retirement and, apart from letting fly with his Mario Lanza impression in Heidelberg, finally manages to convey to Frank (Sarah Parks - don't ask!) that he's fancied her for years, a revelation which disgusts her. Meanwhile Stick (Robert Angell) is pretty cynical and sadistic about the whole business - he wants to be on the sexier Spanish run - and vengefully refuses to turn on the air conditioning in his coach despite the stifling heat when two of his charges are late back from a ride on the little town train.
The drivers land on joke names for their passengers - the Beverley Sisters, Marx Brothers, Mack and Mabel and so on - and with headscarves, flat hats, arthritic stoops, posturings and in one case the DTs the three actors slip into the different roles. This level of multi-roling sits less easily on the slightly stiff and declamatory Ashworth than the brilliantly versatile Parks, who also turns in a bravura cameo as a blonde bombshell cabaret turn.
Men of the World is less ambitious than Godber's other recent work - its journey is literal rather than spiritual - but it is packed with the one-liners and the observational comedy that we have come to expect from him: no great depth, but enjoyable. And the under-55s should not feel themselves excluded from the fun.
- Ian Watson (reviewed at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre)