Up ‘N’ Under, by John Godber

Monday, 27 September, 2010

Can Abi Titmuss galvanise a hapless rugby team?

The Sporting Life

Edinburgh 2010 – Assembly Rooms – 7-30 August­­ 2010 – 17.25 (1:35)

Up ‘N’ Under is a cheery, if slightly uninspiring, retread of John Godber’s 1985 comic play about a shambolic amateur rugby team challenged to overcome the odds and beat polished opposition in the final of a big regional Sevens tournament.

The action starts with washed-up rugby star Arthur (William Ilkley) betting his old nemesis Reg (Eamonn Fleming) that he can coach any team to win against his fearsome unbeaten Cobblers.  To Arthur’s dismay, Reg picks the Wheatsheaf – a bunch of losers who can’t even field a full team and whose idea of success is keeping the opposing side’s score down to double figures.  Arthur’s potential ruination is complete when he agrees to stake his house on the outcome of the game.

Arthur goes to meet his new team and finds their four remaining players on the brink of giving up the game after another thrashing.  Overweight butcher Tommy (Eamonn Fleming), mechanic Steve (Lewis Lindford), fireman-come-stripper Phil (James Crossley) and ageing teacher Arthur (William Ilkley) take some convincing but agree to play after some soul-searching.

A chance meeting with svelte gym-owner Hazel (Abi Titmuss), the daughter of a famous hardman who Arthur used to know and respect, gives the team a fitness trainer, somewhere to train and a sixth player for the game.  Her obvious good looks aslo give the team some much-needed motivation to get into shape.

Much of the second half of the play is then concerned with the game itself which ebbs and flows to a nail-biting conclusion.  With the Wheatsheaf a kick away from victory the ending is never certain.

The first half of this play is amusing enough but slightly stilted in its telling.  The writing is packed with quips and one-liners but they are seldom delivered with a comedian’s timing.  Much of the humour is derived from the slightly pitiful state of the Wheatsheaf players – constant complaints about aching limbs, one player who seems happy to take the field in sandals, training sessions held in the pub – while the employment of a surfeit of double entendres is quickly introduced as soon as the shapely Hazel appears.  Sadly, the actors never seem to be able to settle into a rhythm and the lines, rather than being smoothly passed down the line, are fumbled and dropped.  Where there should be overlapping pot-shots, indicative of a sporting team’s easy banter, there are moments of silence giving proceedings an unwanted formal feel.

Things improve drastically in the second half as the teams take to the field for the potentially life-changing game.  Clever direction sees the actors play both teams and uses a range of theatrical trickery to effectively convey the match’s atmosphere and key moments.  There are segments which are almost balletic as the team put their bodies on the line for glory.

All the actors are capable enough and Abi Titmuss has all the necessary physical attributes required for the role of Hazel – attributes which are shown off to full effect with tight shorts and skimpy top.

It is all just a little bland with nothing to really raise the whole to anything other than average

Cast Credits (alpha order): Abi Titmuss – Hazel.  Robert Angell – Phil. James Crossley – Frank.  Eamonn Fleming – Reg/Tommy.  William Ilkley – Arthur.  Lewis Lindford – Steve.

Company Credits: Company – Hull Truck Theatre Company.  Writer – John Godber.  Director – John Godber.  Designer – Pip Leckenby.  Lighting – Graham Kirk.  Stage Manager – Alex Constantin.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Thursday 26 August

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