Writer: John Godber
Director: Jeni Draper
Everybody loves an underdog: it’s a been staple plot device for TV, film and, theatre for well more than 40 years. It’s a plot device so ingrained in our conscience that despite the feel-good factor you get from viewing this classic narrative trope: you want to see something different: Step forward the Fingersmiths Theatre Company production pf John Godber’s Up ‘N’ Under which certainly ticks both boxes!
A bet between arch rivals Reg a flash braggard (William Elliot), and the proud but headstrong Arthur (Wayne Norman) sees Arthur with a huge challenge ahead of him. He has just five weeks to train the Wheatsheaf Arms: a team so bad they have never won a game and can only manage to field four players out of the of the required seven, the team seem to spend more time in the pub than on the training pitch. Their opponents, the Cobblers Arms, the most feared Rugby 7’S team in all the land. To win his bet Arthur enlists the help of local fitness instructor Hazel (Tanya Vital) to whip the Wheatsheaf lads into to shape and hopefully turn them into a force to reckoned with.
Fingersmiths are a visual physical theatre company. The cast are made up of deaf and hearing actors and all their productions are in spoken English as well as British Sign Language (BSL). What this production does is incorporate this into the narrative by having the Wheatsheaf team: Phil (Adam Bassett), Frank (Matt Gurney), Steve (Stephen Collins) and Tony (Nadeem Islam) as an all Deaf team, which is another challenge for Arthur to overcome as he at first doesn’t know sign language.
This a fun, innovative engaging production that will have you chuckling away to yourself and willing on its heroes to succeed. Sure, the plot is far from original: but this a production that breathes new life into a familiar format mainly because of the strong cast. There is genuine feeling of comradery amongst the team which shines through in the performances.
What certainly enhances the production is the gift for physical comedy that all the cast possess: from our introduction to the team right through to the climatic big match showdown, the ensemble cast really get stuck into their parts and have great comedic timing. There are a few dance numbers in there, and a few scenes where no dialogue is required as the more cruder aspects of the script are demonstrated by mimes leaving no doubt what is intended but with great comic affect.
The production makes maximum use of it’s space with designer Amy Jane Cook turning the stage into a rugby pitch. As this a relatively small cast when the big match finally takes place the cast use a double-sided shirt which is very clever.
Throughout the production the use of a screen, voice over and or course spoken, and sign language are used to tell the story, but it never becomes distracting or interferes with your enjoyment; if anything, it enhances it.
This a fresh take on a more than familiar story that will leave a grinning from Cauliflower ear to Cauliflower: well worth a watch!
Runs until 7th March 2018 | Image: Mike Kwasniak