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A CurtainUp London Review
The English Game
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.
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