Men of the World | Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne | Review

Men of the World

Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne

Preparing for a mystery trip to Scarborough three northern coach drivers pass the time remembering more exciting trips from the past, such as the one down the Rhine Valley. Stick hates his passengers and wishes he was doing the Spanish run, Larry is a seasoned traveller and Mario Lanza fan and Frank is their female counterpart.

John Godber has the distinction of being one of the most performed writers in the English language. He has won numerous awards for his plays, including a Laurence Olivier Award and seven Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, however, he has never really surpassed his early work with plays such as Bouncers, Up ‘n’ Under, Teechers, Cramp and the brilliant Blood, Sweat and Tears.

With Men of the World he sticks with his well-known style of bare-bones physical theatre, in which a minimal number of actors play a vast number of characters at a furious pace. These characters are two dimensional but Godber has always been able to nail a stereotype better than anyone when he is on form.

This is Phil&Ben Productions’ third and final play in a mini season of three this summer however it is not their best production. Godber’s multi-role playing style only really works if the transitions from one character to another are immediate and crisply defined. The unnecessary music that introduces and bookends each group of characters prevents the cast from transitioning fast enough and only Paul Hawkyard as Stick(or Paul Hayward according to the programme) manages to play each of his roles with the heightened reality the play requires. His is the outstanding performance.

The set gives the impression we are at an end of the pier show, a production of Oh What a Lovely War or perhaps Punch and Judy and why there is a step ladder in the middle of the stage is never fully explained.

Robin Simpson is very good in the role of Larry who is looking forward to his retirement (or is he?) and Janine Mellor completes the cast as Frank. The exquisite lighting design by Elliot Davis sets us firmly on the banks of the Rhine and the production is entertaining enough with a few big laughs (mostly unscripted), but the sketch-like vignettes are just too drawn out to make it compulsive viewing.


Reviewer: Patric Kearns