Writer Simon Block’s first stage play involved that heady world of mini-cabs and ping-pong. Not an obvious opening gambit into the world of theatre but one which got him noticed.
Not A Game For Boys is premier league comedy that is touching, affectionate, hysterically funny and slightly disconcerting.
It won fans at The Royal Court ten years ago and is likely to do it all over again with a tremendous new production at Islington’s legendary King’s Head Theatre.
Entertainer, comedian and game show host Bobby Davro always delivers a top spin on his panto performances but here he puts his comic timing to good use with a drama debut as mini-cab driver Eric.
Not A Game For Boys is more than a few rounds of male bonding. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s about three North London cabbies who opt out of their lives for 45 minutes a week “me” time, playing in their local table tennis league.
Their work, their families and their troubles are left at the clubhouse door as the trio thrash the opposition to exorcise their stresses. If they were more middle class they’d probably take it out on the ball in the squash court.
But things are about to change. One of their club members, Fat Derek, dropped down dead, aged just 47, while playing a game and his funeral has deeply affected Oscar.
The player’s demise sets off a chain of events that could see club nights and friendships, if ever there were any, change forever.
Oscar’s not a new man. He doesn’t share his problems and he doesn’t expect others to ask for his opinions – because he won’t give them. He’s hard to read and hard to like.
Fat Derek’s “deceasement” as Eric calls it, has brought to the surface fears about his own mortality and the answer is, he believes, to ditch sweaty nights of competitive ping pong for something more sedate like bridge or bowls.
But that would involve the collapse of the team and captain, Eric, enjoys the cut and thrust too much to see it fold.
Emotions reach fever-pitch during a decisive make-or-break match. Eric’s concentration is stretched to the limit when he’s plagued by phone calls from wife Elaine who is at home trying to control his doolally mother, their pregnant teen daughter and son.
Team member Tony is late. It turns out he’s been giving one of his fares a bit of a seeing to on the back seat (up the Aldwych) and is terrified his partner will find out.
And Oscar is threatening to deliberately throw the match.
Block’s snappy dialogue bristles with energy and humour. There are no long speeches, just the parrying of insults and worldly banter, knocked back and forth over an imaginary net, between three working-class blokes.
Davro, Alan Drake as Oscar, and Oliver Joel playing Tony, all serve up winning performances (though their back hands need a bit of work).
Every line and bead of sweat on Davro’s ruddy-faced Eric has been earned from a lifetime’s domestic strife. It’s a great role for a man who makes clowning look easy and serious drama effortless.
At one point over-worked Eric lets his guard down to reveal that he doesn’t have a home but a house he pays the mortgage on for the wife, mother and kids. How many men can relate to that?
Producer and actor Oliver Joel manages to make Tony likable even though he’s a randy little sod who can’t resist chancing his arm if a fare’s willing and able – even though his other half, Lisa, has been known to knock him about.
“Christ Almighty, Tone” says a disgusted Eric. “Haven’t you heard of self-control?”
“I’ve heard of it,” he innocently admits, like a naughty schoolboy who just can’t stop helping himself to another sweetie.
Oscar’s a complicated man and Alan Drake gives a heartfelt performance. There’s a lot Block doesn’t reveal about his three ping-pong-playing minicab drivers but the snatches are enough to show Oscar has been scarred by life and circumstance. The result is a sad, bitter, cynical middle-aged man with little to look forward to.
Director Jason Lawson, whose Lawson Joel Productions and Cracking Up Productions are staging the comedy, gets the best out of his little band of players who all give assured and hilarous performances.
The dialogue is fruity and realistic – not that I have much personal knowledge of taxi-driver repartee – and fabulously funny.
If you’ve been to the King’s Head you’ll know that space is at a premium so Lawson’s staging, to get around the tricky issue of a night’s table tennis, is imaginative and inspired.
This is Lawson Joel Productions’ first play and their remit is to produce exciting and engaging theatre. For an opening shot Not A Game For Boys wins with an ace.
Not A Game For Boys runs at the King’s Head Theatre until July 5. Not a game to miss.
Not A Game For Boys
Simon Block’s hilariously funny comedy, Not A Game For Boys, sees cabbie Bobby Davro captain a winning team in a revival at Islington’s King’s Head Theatre.