Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Review: The Ashes. Nottingham Playhouse

Originally written for The Public Reviews
'The Ashes' by Michael Pinchbeck was first produced at Nottingham Playhouse in September 2011 and has been revived to coincide with this year's Ashes test at the Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham. The new version is designed in a different light from the original, principally through the author Pincheck's initiative to contact Harold Larwood's daughter Enid Todd, who now resides in Australia. Their conversations helped the playwright to develop the role of Lois, Larwood's wife.

For any playgoer having seen the 2011 original there are some excellent changes in the projected cricket footage used creating an improved dynamism and focus on the central relationships.

The director, Giles Croft is an active promoter of new theatre writing at Nottingham Playhouse and the East Midlands and in the case of 'The Ashes' he feels that this new production offers a wonderful opportunity to add new scenes and tone to the work and build upon any success the play may have at and outside of this revival at Nottingham Playhouse.

The play of 'The Ashes' tells of the controversy surrounding the 1932-1933 England cricket tour of Australia. The tour was made famously controversial by the dangerous bodyline bowling tactics employed by the England team, in particular the fast bowler Harold Larwood. The events led to a crisis of diplomatic events between England and Australia.

Karl Haynes is very authentic as Larwood as both a younger and older man and his Nottinghamshire accent is perfect. Larwood and his fast paced, fearless reputation for accuracy and speed were legendary but his 'un-sportsman-like' heroics were also his downfall and after his refusal to apologise he never played for England again. Later in his life however, he was welcomed to Australia when he chose to go and live there.

The play boasts six actors, Michael Pinchbeck, Karl Haynes, Robin Bowerman, Sarah Churm, Jamie de Courcey, Daniel Hoffman – Gill, Timothy Knightley and Paul Trussell, some playing multiple roles with various accents and the piece is very much an ensemble piece with an almost bare stage setting the scene for the threads of the story. The stage is very well used and the story telling aided with clever and regular usage of projections of titles, stills and film archive. Occasionally the actors copy the actions of the characters on the archive films with great theatrical results, skill and humour. The only female in the cast, Sarah Churm, plays Larwood's wife Lois and some humour is had with her playing several cricketers alongside the film running above. She is also very poignant in the scenes where she watches sports newsreel footage in Mansfield of her husband the England team thousands of miles away in Australia.

Overall there is some superbly understated acting and great direction from Giles Croft. Even if one isn't a cricket fan it is the human dramas that lift this play well beyond the boundaries of 'just a play about cricket.

Phil Lowe