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Hands Up for Jonny Wilkinson’s Right Boot review at Redgrave Theatre, Bristol – ‘impressively researched’

Moira Hunt, George Williams, Hannah Douglas and Giles Coram in Hands Up for Jonny Wilkinson’s Right Boot. Photo: Lisa Hounsome Moira Hunt, George Williams, Hannah Douglas and Giles Coram in Hands Up for Jonny Wilkinson’s Right Boot. Photo: Lisa Hounsome
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We won’t know until October 31 whether England have won the Rugby World Cup for only the second time. By then, Live Wire Theatre’s impressively researched account of four key moments in the cup’s history will have run its course, so there could well be a follow-up sporting drama to tell in years to come.

As its title suggests, one of the iconic moments under scrutiny is Jonny Wilkinson’s winning, last-minute drop-goal in 2003. Others are Nelson Mandela, dressed in a South African rugby shirt, presenting the trophy to Francois Pienaar as a symbol of the emerging rainbow nation, and New Zealand’s man-mountain Jonah Lomu’s four tries against England.

Strangely, though, they are only a sideshow to the little-known story of Fred Jackson, a star Cornish forward suspended from the first-ever British Lions tour to New Zealand in 1908 for playing under an assumed name in the much-despised professional Rugby League. Writer Dougie Blaxland uses Jackson’s story to comment on the social and racial issues of the time, even introducing a true love story between Jackson and his Maori wife.

At times, the storytelling tends towards the verbose. The quartet of players are at their best, however, when they lace the narrative with a welcome mix of Cornish and First World War songs, while remaining light enough on their feet to mime an impressive selection of game-time action.

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Quite a few rugby songs are strictly for male-only consumption, but here is an unusual sporting tale for all the family