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A CurtainUp London London Review
The English Game

Self hatred is the cancer at the heart of our nation. If we’re not gnawing away at our own back legs in an orgy of self-repudiation, we're not happy. — Will
The English Game
Tony Bell as Sean, Jamie Samuel as Rubin, Sean Murray as Thiz, Fred Ridgeway as Reg, Rudi Dharmalingam as Nick and Howard Ward as Theo
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
This is what Richard Bean had to say about this new play, "This play is my revenge on cricket. The game.s dominated my life, destroyed the cartilage in my knees, broken up relationships and pretty much ruined my life." Underneath all this witty acidity is of course a love-hate relationship with the pastime sport of cricket. Until recently he played on the Sunday Friendly Circuit with a team of theatrical cricketers called Actors Anonymous.

Richard Bean writes brilliant comedies which do more than make us laugh, they make us think as well. His success for me is not just in his wry observation and wonderful jokes, but because he starts with subjects he knows about, whether it's the fishing industry of Hull or in this instance, the English passion for the game of cricket. But this is more than mere observation of a group of men gathering to knock a ball around a cricket pitch, it is a play which brings together disparate characters into an incongruous team, The Nightwatchmen, and as we learn about the men so we approach an understanding as to what makes up England and Englishness today.

There are the three generations: eighty nine year old Len (Trevor Martin) who has come to watch where he used to play, his son Will (Robert East) and his son, 13 year old Ruben (Jamie Samuel), both of whom will play. The two older men enter with a glorious physical comedy from director, Sean Holmes, with the almost nonagenarian staggering, bow legged and unsteady and the younger man sticking a warning feather in a pile of dog shit. Long, bleached haired, Thiz (Sean Murray), the candid, aging Rock star who, on divorce parted with his house in France to his wife and tells us repeatedly that she got the Lot (you see the French house was in the department of the Lot et Garonne). There’s Clive (John Lightbody) the overly expressive actor and the life and soul of the party, always keen to dramatise. Sean (Tony Bell) has a horrible marriage and two small children and his wife exhorts a terrible price for him to be able to play cricket on Sundays. Theo (Howard Ward), a doctor, is planning to relocate to France when he retires, but not to play cricket there because he wants to fit in with the French and not be classed as an English ex-pat. Two of the team are not white, Nick (Rudi Dharmalingam) whose gayness offends Reg, and Olly (Marcus Onylude) who has a hangover and a big wedding to organise soon. And there is an interloper, Reg (Fred Ridgeway) who has been sent to stand in for a neighbour, a regular member of the team. Reg has ghastly political opinions but is unexpectedly, very successful as a batsman. The irony is that even after a magnificent innings he isn’t welcome as a permanent member of the team because this game isn’t about winning, it’s about continuity and comradeship and good people to spend a Sunday with. The team they are pitched against is one organised by Bernard (Peter Bourke) a bum clenchingly irritating, pedant (described by Clive as the human equivalent of spam email) with a team consisting of Fat Sid and ten talented Bangladeshi cricketers.

Anthony Lamble’s set is grassy and wonderfully atmospheric. We never see anyone at the wicket, only see the irritation of each dismissed batsman as he rejoins his team mates. It may not be just about winning but each batsman is fiercely competitive and has a small tantrum. If Bean’s play is a state of nation commentary, the cricket pitch has seen better days, the traffic is dreadful on the way there, there is dog shit on the pitch, the pavilion has been burnt down and the cricketers are victims of an opportunist thief while they are involved in the match. At least the rain holds off until the match is over. But there are also so many humorous and wonderful moments that, despite the problems, you can see why we love England and its national game and of course the plays of Richard Bean.

The English Game
Written by Richard Bean
Directed by Sean Holmes

With: Tony Bell, Peter Bourke, Rudi Dharmalingam, Robert East, Andy Frame, John Lightbody, Trevor Martin, Ifan Meredith, Sean Murray, Marcus Onilude, Fred Ridgeway, Jamie Samuel, Howard Ward
Design: Anthony Lamble
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Sound: Gregory Clarke
A Headlong Theatre production in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford
Running time: Two hours 25 minutes with one interval
Booking to 17th May at Yvonne Arnaud and then touring to:
20th – 24th May 2008 Northcott Theatre Exeter, Telephone: 01392 493493
28th – 31st May 2008 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, Telephone: 0113 213 7700
3rd – 7th June 2008 Oxford Playhouse Telephone: 01865 303305
10th -14th June 2008 Malvern Theatres Telephone: 01684 892277
17th – 21st June 2008 Rose Theatre, Kingston Telephone: 0871 230 1552
24th – 28th June 2008 The Lowry, Salford Telephone: 0870 787 5780
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th May 2008 performance at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Surrey (Rail: Guildford)
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