Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“a wonderfully poignant and hilariously funny comedy about life after death”
Imagine turning on your PlayStation or opening Candy Crush, and instead of the heady dopamine hit of flashing lights and reward pathways, you get your work email inbox. That is how to it feels to find out that the play you’re going to see is about Brexit. Fortunately, Scary Bikers is as concerned about Brexit as ‘Titanic’ was about 20th-century steel ships; it’s definitely in the play, but it’s not much fun when they talk about it.
John Godber both wrote and directed Scary Bikers, and he plays Don with Jane Thornton as Carol across the stage. Don has lost his wife to lung cancer after a lifetime of working-class lore with miners’ strikes, stolen coal and the inevitable retraining. Carol too has lost her husband, a northern boy done good as an architect, lost to a brain tumour as middle age wanes and old age waxes. They meet, in a graveyard of all places, and come to chatting.
Carol now owns a middle-class cycling cafe in her husband’s memory as she plans a cycle trip to Florence. Don has fared less well with isolation, bitterness and a loss of the little faith he ever had. Somehow, Don is convinced to pay ‘two thousand bludy pounds’ to join this trip to Florence but on a tandem with Carol.
As they take the ferry from Hull to the continent, Britain goes to the polls and Godber the writer goes for the crowbar; squeezing in hindsight-rich observations about Brexit framed as an argument between the two characters. It’s all a little forced as they fall out on politics then resolve.
The pointed heads over at Sky Arts had the idea of Art 50: a pot of money for artists around the UK to produce content on the ineffable question of “What it means to be British”. He who pays the piper, calls the tune, and Godber dutifully dances just enough to satisfy his paymasters at Sky.
But he’s sly, and the play is never really about Brexit. Truthfully, it’s a wonderfully poignant and hilariously funny comedy about life after death; not your death but the death of someone you loved. Where Don and Carol struck the audience was as their lost partners appeared beside them and each talked with loss, pain and comedy pulsating out into the audience. The Brexit conversation doesn’t land in the same way. There’s a valiant attempt to represent both sides of the debate but the ideas feel more like talking points in a contemporary essay, rather than characters expressing themselves in the moment.
Scary Bikers arrives through the headwind of Brexit. Foxton’s detailed set (the cycling cafe) establishes a precise sense of place for some of the scenes and a static tandem on stage gifts the actors with opportunities for wonderful physical comedy. But the real velocity comes from the performances. Godber gets the laughs ever time with his gruff but profound portrayal and Thornton brings a beautiful arc as Carol grows and escapes the fear and anxiety which sat upon her. Ultimately, if a play which keeps mentioning Brexit can make you laugh, it’s a good’un in my books.
Reviewed by William Nash
Photography by Antony Robling
Trafalgar Studios until 27th April
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: