A review of opening night by Martin Roche
The great thing about a piece of theatre is when the subject matter brings an idea, a concept, a story to the stage which feels original and just works. I think we’re on safe ground in the originality stakes with a two-hander play encompassing foreign cycling trips, bereavement, Brexit, the Miner’s Strike and a burgeoning friendship! I guess it is the latter which is the glue which holds this unexpectedly winning formula together and ensures it finds an endearing place with an audience.
I can imagine that the success of this play is not ‘a given’ either. There are rarely free rides in theatre and dead cert’s are not guaranteed just because of a good script. This isn’t an easy piece to get right and to do justice to. But at the heart of a good play is the telling: the vision, the casting, the staging; a director who can orchestrate the components and then actors who can deliver it.
And for this production, they delivered and more besides.
At the heart of this piece is its heart. The writing and then the direction and the performances hold this piece close and ensure we, the audience, do the same.
Mike Lawlor’s direction is light, ensuring the characters and their stories are uncomplicated, honest, sincere and engaging. It also means that we can associate with the characters Don and Carol. A simple but vital principle if you want to keep an audience until the end. The duos journey on a tandem across Europe when the country is leaving it due to Brexit provides a good deal for them to chew over on their road trip. And this is a theme which features strongly. However, the direction and the performances ensure that we are not bogged down in a theatrical version of ‘Question Time.’ The dialogue is sincere and honest. Vitally, it is conversational and engaging ensuring that Don (Phil Clegg) and Carol (Elizabeth Travis) provide us with two windows on humanity: on life, love and loss. Their journey, both practical and emotional, is one of resonance and so nicely done, we have no problem feeling – and being – a part of it.
And the heavy burden of pulling this play off sits well on the shoulders of Travis and Clegg. They are so very well matched and complement each other perfectly. Their dialogue is very much ‘in the moment’ as if we are watching their relationship unfold, real time, before our eyes. Their characterisations are measured, unpretentious and well observed. They don’t labour their experiences but present themselves, warts and all in an almost matter-of-fact way. Clegg wallows in the sardonic side of his character, maxing out some killer lines. Travis has an intimacy in all that she says which draws you in effortlessly. Consequently, the pathos is stark, the humour honest and both elements hit home equally. It also means that we easily find the humour in Godber’s writing without it being spoon-fed.
The simple staging ensured we focussed on Don and Carol and their relationship as they navigate their journey through Europe and through life.
Any play is a big ask and this piece was no different with challenges including staging, continuity and lighting. But the director and actors rose to it and did justice to the piece and the writer.
The play is a gentle and at times, hard-hitting ride through northern life, humour, relationships and politics. This performance of it was thoroughly entertaining – and worth the ticket.
From the audience numbers for opening night, word has already got out. And their judgment was bang on the money. Going off the audience reaction at the curtain, this is going to be another success at this gem of a theatre.
Scary Bikers by John Godber is on at Millgate Arts Centre 24thSeptember- 1st October. Directed by Mike Lawlor and starring Liz Travis and Phil Clegg.
Tickets are available at www.millgateartscentre.co.uk.
And whilst making your purchase, check out the season they have planned as well as what the boys of Saddleworth Live are hatching for their offerings. I think you might be making a few return journeys!
Martin Paul Roche – First Night Reviews
Theatre Writer, Arts Reviewer and Adjudicator – www.martinpaulroche.com