The English Game – May 2008

8/10

By Richard Bean

Directed by Sean Holmes

Company: Headlong

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 12th May 2008

This was the sixth public performance of this new play, if our calculations are right, and also the press night. There were probably a large number of friends and family in as well, as the early laughter from some parts of the audience, some of whom were right behind us, seemed over the top for the action on stage or the dialogue. I always find this off-putting, as it distracts me from my own enjoyment, but fortunately this play was good enough to have me warmed up by the end of the first act, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

We did manage to get ourselves into the wrong seats at the start, though. We hadn’t realised that the entire first row had been taken over by the cricket pitch, so instead of being five rows from the front, we were only four. Still, it’s only the second time that’s happened in all our years of going to the theatre, so that’s not bad.

The whole stage (including the first row) was covered in grass, with a few bits of concrete off to our left to represent a burnt down pavilion, a few trees behind that, a litter bin far right, and a big juicy dog turd in the midst of the grass. Simple, but effective. The action took a while to get going. First Will arrives, with his father Len, who’s well past his prime and needs a lot of help to get about. Len’s put down in a folding chair to our right, and shows us his character from the off. After demanding a cup for his water, he waits till the filled cup is in his hand, and when Will’s back is turned, tips it onto the grass.

Gradually the other players arrive for the match, and with one replacement player – Gary’s neighbour, Reg – we get to know who everyone is through the introductions and greetings. The banter is good fun; Thiz (the aging rock band member) tells some entertaining jokes, and all the elements of an amateur Sunday team were present. The first act takes us up to the start of play, the second covers the lunch interval, while the third skips nimbly through the team’s innings and the packing up afterwards.

All the performances were excellent. The various relationships were pretty clear from the start, though there were some interesting developments as the game progressed. In particular, a number of people found loud mouth Reg easier to get on with once he’d scored some good runs for them. There’s a long debate on the LBW rule, but mostly the conversation is about their friendships, wives, children, jobs, etc. Towards the end of the match, it’s discovered that Len has finally gone to the pavilion in the sky, and some of the players help Will to get the body off the pitch and back into the van. At the end of the play, the set is as empty as it was at the start, and minus one dog turd.

I enjoyed this play very much. It reminded me of Steaming, the Nell Dunn play which looks at the relationships between a group of women using the setting of an old-fashioned steam bath. This was the male equivalent, all the more so because women were banned from the team, so the men had to provide their own sandwiches and tea. Never having been part of an all-male group, I don’t know for certain how realistic this was, but it seemed pretty accurate to me. Along with the laughs, there were some moving bits, but it never got too heavy, and left me feeling I’d spent an entertaining evening in the company of people I might never have met otherwise.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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