by David Fox
Up ‘N’ Under at Birmingham Rep
John Godber’s Happy Jack and Bouncers were staples of my A level theatre courses so I was really looking forward to seeing perhaps his most famous play, Up ‘N’ Under, for the first time, at Birmingham Rep. Godber, the northern working class dramatist who is said to be the third most performed playwright behind Shakespeare and Alan Aykbourn, delivers his signature mix of real life emotion, drama, and observational humour in this brilliant tale of a down on its luck rugby club.
The Wheatsheaf Arms rugby team, the laughing stock of Castleford’s Amateur Rugby League Seven-a-Side tournament, have never won a game, don’t have seven players and spend more time in the pub than on the pitch. Set up in a bet with his arch rival Reg, our hero coach Arthur has five weeks to convince them they can beat the mighty Cobbler’s Arms, but first he has to work out how to communicate with them… they are Deaf and he doesn’t sign!
Up ‘N’ Under is a co-production between The New Wolsey Theatre Company and fingersmith a visual physical theatre company, with a cast of Deaf and hearing actors performing using British Sign Language and spoken English. fingersmith’s aims are to attract new deaf practitioners, audiences and participants, to breathe life into established texts and create new and inspirational theatre which will delight all audiences. I can confidently say this production of Up ‘N’ Under achieves all three of those aims. At times I was wonderfully challenged and out of my comfort zone, as the actors and production mixed speech, British Sign Language, voice-overs, and captioned displays, to bring the play to life – indeed the BSL and captions were played to accentuate the humour of the situation.
With such a good ensemble cast, acting and communicating in different ways, it is really difficult (and perhaps unfair) to single out particular performers, however I really enjoyed Nadeem Islam’s energetic, fun and cheeky performance, and Adam Basset was superb during a dream sequence at Wembley Stadium. For the ‘final’ the whole cast brought the match to life brilliantly, playing both the hero team, and their rivals, as well as repeating crucial moves in slow motion!
The audience were really on the side of the actors and everyone enjoyed the play. It made my first time in the Rep’s Studio space enjoyable and had a really happy atmosphere. Birmingham Rep should be praised for bringing and diverse audience in to the theatre – they are having a really good season this Spring, hosted The Winslow Boy and Up ‘N’ Under, with Brighton Rock, and This House still to come bringing quality drama and comedy to Birmingham.
Up ‘N’ Under is only showing at Birmingham Rep until Wednesday 14th March, so go see it while you can! Tickets are available here: birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/up-n-under.html
This isn’t a sponsored post. David was invited to see Up ‘N’ Under for #BrumHour by Birmingham Rep