Lost Boy Racer, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, review: An affectionate piece of mildly surreal distinctively Northern comedy

An uneven show but strong performances from all four principals in this celebration of cycling
  • @pvall

The road from the motorway to the theatre is lined with yellow flowers, yellow bicycle symbols fastened to the lamp-posts, and yellow-sprayed full-sized bikes pinioned to trees and the facades of shops, restaurants, businesses and private homes. Tour de France fever has come to Yorkshire well ahead of the arrival of the peloton after the county won the right to host the opening stages of the world’s most famous cycling race.

Lost Boy Racer is a gentle celebration of the impact such great sporting events have upon the psyche of the ordinary citizen. It tells the story of a one-time boy cycling champion, Sean Racer – whose name gives a clue to the quirkily allegorical  character of the show which will tour Northern theatres in the run up to the race, which begins in a couple of weeks.

Sean’s glory days are long-departed. He has run to fat as a middle-aged tax inspector, disengaged from his job, and taking refuge in comfort eating.  The slipstream of the Tour de France blows the wind of change through his lardy life.

It is an affectionate piece of mildly surreal distinctively Northern comedy which begins with the tax inspector’s visit to a smalltown hairdresser who has developed a black economy sideline selling her customers biofuel – disguised as Zoom shampoo – recycled from the chip-shop next door.

The play is at its best with Julie Amanda Bokowiec’s strongly-written monologues for its four main characters. They begin with a disarming prologue about removing the stabilisers from a child’s bike which Robin Simpson, as the cycle-shop repairman Claude,  imbues with a slightly mystical quality as a rite of passage which is a rehearsal for life’s bigger challenges. 

Next Michaela Longden as the chipshop-owner Nina indulges in a delightfully rhapsodic account of the transmutation of energy based on her unpredictable  Nutall’s fish fryer. And an engaging Thomas Aldersley, who brings an attractive bumbling warmth to the mid-life crisis of Sean Racer, is suddenly fired with passion with a soliloquy on what cycling can transform the human heart, and he isn’t talking cardio-vascular.

It is an uneven show. The dramatic report of the race between Sean and his great boyhood rival starts well but falls away. Some of the surreal sequences between the comic scenes don’t come off. The imaginative metal sculpture which is the bike shop creates a strong set but the fiddly cage coming on and off as the hairdressers salon creates too much downtime. And the BMX bike ballet lacks the fluidity of kids riding on the streets.

But director Liz Posthlethwaite, draws some strong performances from all four principals with some nice touches of caricature Corrie comedy from Sarah Groake as the hairdresser Linda-Marie parodying the erotic possibilities of a chocolate éclair. The comedy is kind and sentimental. It even manages to speak of Scunthorpe without derision.