The Greater Game at Waterloo East Theatre

Greater Game
The Greater Game at Waterloo East Theatre

The Greater Game is a play by Michael Head based on the real life story of the Leyton Orient tea who were the first football team to enlist together to fight in the first world war. It tells of the firm friends and heroes both on and off the pitch, William Jonas (Steven Bush) and Richard McFadden (James Phelps) along with their team mates Jumbo (Michael Head), Captain Fred ‘Spider’ Parker (Jack Harding), accident prone goalie Jimmy (Tom Stocks), Nolan ‘Peggy’ Evans (Paul Marlon), George Scott (Scott Kyle) and manager Billy Holmes (Michael Greco).

Greater Game

It is a theme that is not new to theatre, dealing with the horrors of war however the particular spin on it with football as the common thread amongst these men helps prevent this story from feeling tired. Head is also known for writing comedy and this does shine through, throughout the show with witty lines. It also stops the piece feeling too heavy and provides moments of light relief.

The show really is a show of two halves. The first act focuses on setting the scene, building up the team spirit  and helping the audience get to know the players. The first act therefore does drag slightly and it is only right before the interval that the play shifts it’s action to the battlefields of the Western Front and the true drama begins to unfold.

As the show progresses the emotion is heightened, resulting in a very moving play. This is enhanced by the personal touches of the photographs of real players that are a backdrop to all of the action taking place.

All of the actors in the show performed their part well and they embodied the nuances of each character with enthusiasm. The comradery between them all was also believable, creating the atmosphere of a real football team. I particularly enjoyed Jack Harding’s performance as the captain, slightly more mature than the rest of the lads on the team, his performance was understated and powerful, trying to be a leader whilst dealing with the horrors himself. It was when Spider began to fall apart that it really became clear to the audience the horrors that the team were encountering.

The set was simple, with the backdrop of the locker room along with the aforementioned photographs. It served to remind the audience of where the team had come from although at times it didn’t always fit with the action. This however is understandable in a smaller theatre and didn’t detract from the heart of the story.

It is perhaps a fitting tribute to these players that this play is receiving an airing in this centenary year. A moving piece that provides a fresh look at a wartime story.

To find out more about The Greater Game and to book tickets visit Waterloo East Theatre website.

If you like this review you might also like my review for The Trench at Southwark Playhouse, A Very Very Very Dark Matter at Bridge Theatre and Private Peaceful at The Orchard Theatre.

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