It turns out the 1913 play by Hobson’s Choice writer Harold Brighouse has parallels with his best known work (strong-willed young daughters rallying against paternal and societal norms), but unbelievably has been regarded as a ‘lost’ work, rarely performed since it’s debut – at the Playhouse, no less – at the turn of the century. Unbelievable, because the quality of this play (not to mention this production) is remarkable, and the story thoroughly entertaining.
The Game tells the story of Austin Whitworth (Barrie Rutter), upper class football club owner, who is forced to sell his best and most loyal player, Metherell, to a rival club to keep the business afloat. However, he will later beg the footballer to throw the game when the teams meet.
Once again the Playhouse (like its sister theatre the Everyman) has been simply uncanny in the timing and relevance of its programming. As Whitworth feared relegation and ruin, the recent failures of LFC loomed large. And seeing the show on the day the Beckhams were hitting the headlines for their latest attempts to block lurid allegations once again made the 100-year-old text spookily pertinent.
And what text – beautifully written, Brighouse fleshes out his characters with real warmth and affection, and creates some wonderful dialogue in the process, as well as dealing with timeless issues of class and sporting politic. His creations are each and every one loveable, and the women, as in Hobson’s Choice, ahead of their time. I loved foppish, artistically workshy Leo (Jos Vantyler), stoic and virtuous star player Jack Metherell (Phil Rowson) and strong-willed, feminine Elsie (Catherine Kinsella).
Trouble brews, and the show is stolen, with the entrance of Metherell’s battleaxe mother (Coronation Street’s Cilla, Wendi Peters), that threatens to put the brakes on Jack and Elsie’s across-the-class-divide romance. It’s a measured performance, comic without hamming, and a beautifully revealing study of a hard-working Northern mother’s love.
This warm, funny and beautifully acted performance is a real treat. It runs at the Playhouse until Saturday.
You can read a nice piece on the revival of The Game in the Guardian, here.
Pic by Nobby Clark.