Writer: John Godber
Director: Chris Lawson
Reviewer: Iain Sykes
Over thirty years after its inception in the rugby league heartland of Hull, John Godber’s comedy Up’n’Under is as sharp as ever in another hotspot of that particular sport. This Oldham Coliseum production has the unusual aspect of the Oldham audience cheering for a group of Yorkshire lads rather than the local Roughyeds, as the plucky amateur Davids from the Wheatsheaf Arms go head to head with their Goliath opponents, the Cobblers Arms.
Godber’s script brings to life the northern working class dressing room banter of the lovable bunch of losers of the Wheatsheaf’s remaining four players in the rugby seven-a-side tournaments. They find themselves taken under the wing of ex-pro Arthur (Jeffrey Harmer) who, unbeknown to them, has a rather large wager with his nemesis, the manager of all-conquering Cobblers Arms (a nice little early-show cameo from Richard J Fletcher), that he can train any team to beat them within five weeks. The Wheatsheaf coalition of the initially unwilling, coerced into being licked into shape by Lauryn Redding’s down to earth, no nonsense tyke of a fitness freak, Hazel, are a motley bunch. There’s straight-laced teacher, Phil (Matt Connor) the token rugby union man. Anthony Hunt’s middle-aged butcher, Frank. Reece Richardson’s wonderfully preening Tony, a man more in love with the visual physical effects of his training but not too keen on the playing, and Coliseum panto favourite Richard J Fletcher as jack-the-lad car mechanic, Steve. Between them, Godber’s sharp and funny script springs perfectly into its Yorkshire life, as the lads slowly begin to turn their attitudes around. Physical comedy, as well as verbal sparring, is at the forefront as the reluctant heroes run through their gym routines before disappearing for their regulation pint of beer.
Equally sharp is Chris Lawson’s direction, not only in the fast and furious way the shorter scenes of the first act keep coming, glued together with a Rocky-style soundtrack but in the second act’s depiction of the big match. The clash of the rivals comes to earth shaking life in an almost balletic choreographed display utilising Foxton’s set of ,naturally, a marked out rugby pitch dominated by a set of posts. Superb physical performances abound from all six actors representing both the underdogs and the far more physically imposing and thuggish opponents, switching brilliantly between the two in split seconds without so much as a knock-on. Bringing any sport to the stage in a scripted manner is always going to be a tricky business but here, and indeed judging by the cheers of the audience, we’re right at the heart of a passionate, hard-hitting rugby league match.
Fast, furious and very funny, this production of Up’n’Under hits home like the joy of seeing your team score right under the posts. It’s well worth joining the scrum to try and get a ticket.
Runs until 21st October 2017 | Image: Joel C Fildes