Keeping Our End Up, The Loft, Leamington Spa, 3rd to 13th April
LIKE all great sporting stories Keeping Our End Up, a new play by local writer and actor Mark Carey, features a crew fighting against the odds but hungry for victory.
Forget boxers born on the wrong side of the tracks, basketball, baseball, football heroes with impossible dreams, high morals and rippling muscles – featured here onstage are the five motley members of the Longfield Bishop ladies bowls club.
It is funny from the off – the clever script is chockfull of gags, and the direction from Michael Rolfe spot on as he allows the character-driven drama to play out with no gimmicks just some fine acting from the strong cast.
The set is the claustrophobic confines of the tumbling down clubhouse – it has a leaky roof and looks knackered.
A metaphor? Absolutely.
The ladies team is flailing at the bottom of the league and facing demotion… to stay up they must win their last match of the season against their arch rivals, and who are the best team in the league.
The trouble is the ladies are also doing battle in ‘the game of life’ as they take arms against a sea of troubles: unhappy marriages, aging, bereavement, solitude…
The audience is accompanied through the story by Ruth MacCallum as Ursula Fewings, who gives us the lowdown and gossip as we meet each member – clever asides that give the play an intimacy and freshness.
Wendy Morris steals the show with her comically forthright but incredibly moving portrayal of dinner lady Joan Right, who is grieving the loss of her daughter some years before.
Captain of the team is Ronnie Palmer, a snob but secret soap fan, a widower and former magistrate who is probably showing signs of dementia – Sue Moore plays her with total believability.
Jan Broomfield is the ‘youngster’ in the team, a flappy happy teacher at the local primary school and whose love interest is seemingly the tea urn, ‘Urnie’ – as she obsessively offers a brew to one and all.
Last team member is nervy Fee McGregor, an office worker in an abusive relationship, played with thought and tenderness by Lesley Wilcox.
Hats off to the cast who delivered unfaltering performances to a woman.
The faster-paced and dead-funny first half gives way to a more discordant second as skeletons come out of closets to reveal not all is as peachy as it seems in the players’ lives or their relationships with one another.
A particular highlight is the galvanising Henry V-plagiarising speech delivered by Ronnie before the final match – brilliant, bold writing.
Like many in the packed audience I found much to associate with in Keeping Our End Up: mid-life, Middle England, middling existential angst. As I sat watching it – a ladies bowls team behind me laughed uproariously with recognition at the life of the bowls team. At one point as the brash Joan enters swigging from a wine bottle, one nudged her companion loudly: “there’s you!”
Life meets art. Keeping Our End Up bowled us over (apologies for cliché!).