The Ruck review at Cast, Doncaster – ‘a charming coming of age story’

The cast of The Ruck at Cast, Doncaster The cast of The Ruck at Cast, Doncaster
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Like all the best sports drama, The Ruck isn’t just about sport. Kevin Fegan uses his tale of a teenage girls’ rugby league team embarking on a tour of Australia to tackle many different issues: sexuality, self-harm, relationship issues, incest, religious integration and the evolution of Northern working class communities.

Despite this, The Ruck remains a breezy treat, especially in the first half. The play tells the story of four teenage girls living in Batley, playing rugby while also dealing with the usual host of teenage issues. Fegan’s dialogue, punctuated by rhyming couplets, soliloquies and songs, is witty and believable and the young cast fizz with energy. Richard Hand is an avuncular presence as the coach, while Sophie Mercer, Emily Spowage, Josie Cerise and Esther Grace-Button all hit that perfect balance of teenage bravado and barely concealed angst.

Joyce Branagh is a very visual director, creating a whole host of memorable images, especially in the well-choreographed rugby match sequences, and thanks to clever lighting from Chris Brearley, Olivia du Monceau’s split-level set easily doubles as a muddy rugby field, a bedroom, changing room or even the Gold Coast of Australia.

After the action switches to Australia in the second half, the play is less engaging and the writing sometimes starts to lapse into cliche. Yet there’s so much heart in Branagh’s production. The Ruck is a charming coming of age story – and you don’t have to know the first thing about rugby to enjoy it.

A funny and touching tale of teenage growing pains that’s not just for rugby fans