Colin Milburn was a bombastic first class cricketer, who lit up the County Championship with his box-office batting in the late 1960s. As personable away from the crease as he was aggressive at it, Milburn inspired a generation of schoolboys, before an accident claimed his left eye in 1969, derailing his career and his life, and ultimately leading to an all-too-early death in 1990.
Dougie Blaxland’s When the Eye Has Gone is a one-man show chronicling Milburn’s life, from his record-breaking 480 in Burnopfield Park as a kid (eventually caught off a nearby house’s guttering), to the self-destructive tendencies of his later life. You don’t have to be a Wisden-collecting anorak to appreciate it, but it helps.
Propped up at the bar, gin-and-coke in hand, Dan Gaisford’s Milburn is hugely likeable. His recollections flit back and forth through time, interspersed with snatches of songs and brief, evocative passages of commentary.
But there’s more here than grey-haired MCC members wistfully reminiscing about Milburn’s even-time century at Lords in 1966. Blaxland has skilfully worked Milburn’s life into an arresting parable about the importance of cheerful determination in the face of adversity, and a pertinent warning about the dangers of internalising depression. Life is not cricket, no matter what Milburn thought; it’s okay to show you’re hurt.
Shane Morgan’s production is touring cricket grounds across the country to raise awareness about mental wellbeing in what is a uniquely challenging sport. It’s an endearingly earnest piece, brimming with charisma and honesty, much like Milburn himself.