By Paul Campion
Heaven knows, Brexit hasn’t given us much to laugh about over the last few years. But it has given us John Godber’s ‘Scary Bikers’.
As a Yorkshireman born and bred, Godber was mystified as to why so many of his working-class compatriots voted Leave in the 2016 referendum. In ‘Scary Bikers’ he sets out to examine this anomaly through the prism of Don and Carol, a middle-aged Yorkshire couple who share a passion for cycling, but are otherwise very different.
Don is an angry – very angry – ex-miner now working as a hospital porter. He is still devoted to his wife Jean, who has passed away. For Don, the scars of the miners’ strike are still raw and aggravated even further by the poverty and injustice he sees around him every day. To say that he feels let down by politics and politicians is an understatement. To him, today’s House of Commons is nothing but “a finishing school for Celebrity Big Brother”, as he witheringly describes it. Carol, on the other hand, comes from an altogether more genteel background. An ex-private schoolteacher and would-be artist, she now runs a cycling café and was married to Rob, a successful architect, until he also passed away.
This self-admittedly chalk and cheese couple (‘I’m the cheese”, declares Don) are brought together by the shared loss of their partners and a love of cycling. Bonding over their devotion to life on two wheels they plan a trip to Florence, which has long featured on Carol’s bucket list (Don has no idea what a ‘bucket list’ is). Unfortunately, they book the departure date for 23rd June 2016 – the day of the referendum. Just as they board the ferry, they discover that Don is a Leaver and Carol a Remainer. Worse still, they’re on a tandem so there really is no escape from each other.
Thus, their Italian Adventure threatens to be painful and not just in the saddle department – watching a couple bickering over Brexit for thousands of miles could prove to be equally uncomfortable for an audience. Happily, we’re in the expert hands of John Godber here, so the banter and gags flew past, unerringly hitting the mark each time. We were also treated to some great physical comedy along the way, particularly Don’s hilarious struggle with a pop-up tent.
Any potential potholes of preachiness were skilfully avoided by Godber’s brilliant dialogue and the excellence of the cast. Wendy Jardine and Duncan King not only made a perfect Don and Carol, in some scenes they also convincingly portrayed Jean and Rob, the couple’s deceased other halves. Working in tandem (sorry) with assured direction from Roxana Graves and a nifty, witty soundtrack encompassing everything from traffic whizzing by to cowbells, to twittering birds, with a smattering of Steely Dan (any play featuring Steely Dan gets a thumbs-up in my book), both were an absolute joy.
Special mention must also go to Don and Carol’s ‘transport’, ingeniously designed by Jan and Mick Greenhough, which started life as a pair of solo bikes before joining up to form a tandem later on.
For me, the only slight spoke in the wheel was the staging. The shape of the playing area presents a major challenge to Bar shows. As most of the audience are positioned either side of it, there’s a danger that if scenes are played too far forward only the actors’ profiles are visible. Some scenes might have benefitted from being played further back, I felt. Also, perhaps the use of lighter, foldaway tables and chairs could have added more deftness to some scene changes?
But those are minor quibbles. ‘Scary Bikers’ was a funny, perceptive and highly-entertaining production – a fine addition to the canon of first-class shows seen in the Bar lately. While it fell short of providing answers to the conundrums of Brexit (who could?), it made us laugh while pondering its message that whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, we’re only going to get anywhere if we work together.