Nadeem Islam, Stephen Collins, Wayne Norman, Matty Gurney and Adam Bassett


Birmingham Rep Studio


John Godber’s Up’n’Under can be described as theatrical Rocky with its heart-warming theme of the underdog battling against the odds in the world of rugby league

The story starts at the point where ex-rugby pro Arthur bets his life savings with his rival Reg that he can train any team, in this case The Wheatsheaf Arms, who have never won a game, to beat the dominant top of the league outfit in a seven’s tournament.

Making Arthur’s task more difficult is the fact the Wheatsheaf team don’t have seven players . . . and they are all deaf.

The team consists of Adam Basset as the intellectual teacher Phil. While he is reluctant to be part of the team at first, he finds himself attracted by the passion of his team mates.

Matty Gurney plays the strong butcher Frank who is a force to be reckoned with on and off the pitch. Tony is a cheeky-chappy and is played by the loveable Nadeem Islam.

Steve is played by Stephen Collins who acts as a constant cheerleader for the team and his coach.

Together, the deaf quartet make up the Wheatsheaf rugby team and perform scenes using British Sign Language. They are extraordinary story tellers and create the light-hearted essence that is so prevalent in Godber’s comedy style.

The rest of the cast is played by hearing actors. Wayne Norman is the emotional coach, Arthur, while Tanya Vital is his second in command as their weight trainer, Hazel.

She is also the narrator to the story. William Elliott as Reg provides the driving force behind the determination of the rugby club in the form of his bet.

The second half brings us to the heart and energy of what the game of rugby really is all about. With an undoubted spirit and uplifting comradeship, it is hard for us not to cheer for the Wheatsheaf team.

The choreography is slick and is executed cleverly; the cast wear costumes which allow them to become both teams on the playing field. When they face forward they are the Wheatsheaf and when their backs are turned they become the rival team. This visual trick is as entertaining as it is clever to make us believe that the small cast are in fact a field of twelve men.

Amy Jane Cook’s design is versatile with many settings, including their training gym as well as the rugby pitch itself. The cast break apart the goal posts to use as their training equipment, giving clever visual effects for bright and interchangeable scenes. The backdrop is a bright green rugby field which highlights the energy and fun of the overall performance.

John Godber is a champion of working class theatre. Although his script seems to lack imagination at times, with predictable metaphors and jokes that seem slightly outdated for today’s audience, the cast do well to capture the feel-good essence of his David and Goliath story.

It seems slightly out of place that the narration by Hazel’s character is delivered in a poetic Shakespearean style. This is no fault of actor Tanya Vital, who is excellent and is superb within her delivery, rather that it is Godber’s random attempt at connecting classical theatre within a modern setting.

This production by Fingersmiths, along with The New Wolsey Theatre, and directed by Fingersmith’s artistic director Jeni Draper, integrates theatre, sport and culture and the company prides itself on being inclusive with each scene wonderfully interpreted to include everyone in the audience.

Fingersmiths are experts in educating people about British Sign Language while on the left of the stage is a video screen with subtitles of the script. There are also intervals of video and pictures designed by Stanley enhance the comedy of John Godber’s tongue in cheek script,

The production brings together spoken English and British Sign Language to tell Godber’s story of hope and determination, with England Deaf Rugby Union involved – some of the cast members are major fans of the sport.

The London based company focus focusing on making theatre accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing and the superb cast integrate British Sign Language with complete ease to give pleasure, inclusion and, even laughter for any audience, all in one complete package. To 14-03-18

Elizabeth Halpin


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