The Greater Game
The Greater Game is a new play by Michael Head, adapted from the book ‘They Took The Lead’ by Stephen Jenkins. It is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. The play tells of the true story of the players from Clapton Orient (now Leyton Orient) who signed up to fight in the war. The show follows the players from 2 of them signing for Clapton Orient (McFadden & Jonas) to some of their return from the war (I won’t tell you whose so to avoid any spoilers).
This is the first outing of The Greater Game and the story is sensitively told. Despite the subject matter being serious there are plenty of moments of light relief and the natural banter between the players provides a great deal of this. The moments that focus on the atrocities and reality of war contrast nicely to this and at times were moving.
The cast display a great breadth of talent. They move, seemingly easily, between these comedic moments to the gut wrenching tales of loss they contend with throughout the show and they all need to be commended for this. Each member of the team had their own distinctive character, thanks in part to the writing and in part to their talented delivery. You were able to easily identify their traits, from Jumbo, the lazy player who liked to eat (played by Michael Head) to ‘Spider, the squads leader (played by Charlie Clements).
The whole cast, like a football team, play an important role in this piece which helped show the squad as a strong unit of young men. However like a football team there are also star players and Peter Hannah as McFadden struck the balance of hero and humble perfectly. The bond between the squad comes across easily and Nick Hancock, who plays their manager Billy Holmes holds them together like a father figure.
One criticism that I would make is that the play is slightly on the long side and maybe some of the build up to going to war could be condensed slightly. I also found that I didn’t empathise much for the two wives that were left behind, feeling that these characters, unlike the football team, could be found in many plays of this ilk and would potentially look to cut their number waving the men off to war.
The sound effects of gunfire and shells being dropped and sudden flashes of light evoke the feeling of war well. The show is played on the thrust which overall was used to maximum effect by director Tilly Vosburgh. The thrust formation enabled the actors to enter and exit from all 4 corners seamlessly meaning the action could flow well. There was only a couple of occasions where I lost a line due to a combination of an accent and the actor having their back to me.
Overall The Greater Game is a more than a nostalgic look at a football clubs past, it is a piece of theatre that provides a rollercoaster ride through the troubles of friendship and war.
For more information on the Greater Game you can visit Southwark Playhouses’ website.