- OnStage United Kingdom Critic
It’s been a good few years since I’ve visited the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield – I began my journey as an actor there in a small attic rehearsal space with their Youth Theatre. One thing I fondly remember about the theatre from my time there was its continued passion for celebrating local, home-grown stories and sharing them with the community. Such a story is the subject of this review: writer Kevin Fegan’s new play The Ruck, directed by Joyce Branagh and produced by Creative Scene and Lawrence Batley Theatre.
The Ruck brings us to nearby Batley, home to the Batley Bulldogs Girls Under 16s rugby team. Fegan’s play follows the story of the team as they become the first British girls team to take up the challenge of travelling to Australia’s Gold Coast to play against the country’s school champions. Largely based on Fegan’s residency with the club, the play’s narrative follows this journey and the stories of four fictional characters on the team and their coach: Shelley, Emley, Iffy, Heaton and Spen (Esther-Grace Button, Josie Cerise, Sophie Mercer, Emily Spowage and Richard Hand respectively).
From start to finish, Fegan’s play is a wonderfully executed piece of performance. The aforementioned core cast bring the narrative to life with passion and finesse, with entirely appropriate and well-rounded characterisations joyfully permeating throughout the fabric of the play. The team of girls work well together, demonstrating and celebrating the trials, tribulations and companionship endured by those who their stories are based on. Rounding off these central stories are the performative accompaniments of the three other cast members, Emma Ashton, Robert Took and Sam Winterbottom, who between them bring several more characters in the narrative to life and provide highly enjoyable musical interludes.
As the play progresses, it’s a delight and joy to see the performers truly connect with their audience. The piece flourishes as a result, and the feedback reaped from their spectators enables the cast to demonstrate an unwavering energy that really feeds Fegan’s blend of dramatic tension, comedy and nostalgic tragedy. The text itself is both poetic and prosaic, and becomes something of a highly modern fable that will undoubtedly live on in the minds of those who see it. The performers sensitively colour their performances to match the mood and feel generated by textual impulses, and craft focused, engaging interpretations of Fegan’s refined literary landscape.
Housing the action is designer Olivia du Monceau’s set, which makes clever use of stage space and lighting to help define locations and atmospheres within the narrative. With an architectural language that draws influence from rugby pictures and a vibrant, refreshingly uncluttered lighting design, Monceau’s scenography beautifully enhances the piece’s performances.
When I took my seat in the theatre’s main house, I really hoped that the venue’s passion for local and dynamic stories and performances hadn’t been snuffed out. After seeing The Ruck, I can assure you that this passion is far from being snuffed; this collaboration between a wonderful theatre, skilled writer and excellent performers is a real treat and joy to watch. I can’t wait to see where this piece of relevant, enjoyable theatre ends up in the future.
For more information and tickets for other venues on the show’s tour, visit: http://www.creativescene.org.uk/events/the-ruck/