The game is cricket, equally loved and loathed by prolific playwright Richard Bean, who finally gave it up having destroyed his left knee after 30 years as an amateur bowler.
Sean Holmes’ 13-strong company are the Nightwatchmen, playing a not very friendly match against the Farringden cheats (skippered by Peter Bourke’s pedantic, beautifully observed Bernard), plus a sneak chav who ransacks the team’s clobber while they are fielding in the blazing sun.
Anthony Lamble’s setting is a grassy patch next to the burnt-down pavilion, forcing the players to change in the open-air and pee in the bushes. Unlike the similar Outside Edge, the womenfolk are grass-widows conspicuous by their absence.
With so many on stage and the conversations constantly changing direction, the only way to watch this play is to lie back and enjoy the blokeish gags and ill-humour. Fred Ridgeway’s Reg is probably meant as a hate figure, a cocky BT engineer with racist rant and a potential terminal illness, but he gets some of the funniest lines and even triumphs in the closing over.
I half suspect the actorly, articulate Clive, played by John Lightbody, carries some of Bean’s own genes, while the most strongly-focused characters are Howard Ward’s GP, the team’s medical man, Tony Bell’s bossy Sean, psyching himself up to play away from his unloved family, and Sean Murray as an outrageous ageing rocker.
As the evening’s secure anchor Robert East gives a deft portrayal of the team’s captain, quietly organising things including his ancient dad (Trevor Martin), a former cricket hero and his son Ruben (Jamie Samuel in his second professional stage role), three touchingly linked performances set to resonate throughout the forthcoming tour.
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, May 7-17, then touring until June 28
- Richard Bean
- Sean Holmes
- Headlong, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
- Cast includes
- Tony Bell, Robert East, John Lightbody, Fred Ridgeway
- Running time
- 2hrs 15mins