Waterloo East Theatre, London – until 25 November 2018
The Greater Game is wonderful. In a way that only a play that reduces me to tears can be wonderful. So what is it about?
It is respectful. This is a play that understands the importance of paying respect to the source material. It tells the story of real people and it does it in a playful yet compassionate way. Yes it is entertaining, but never at the expense of the real stories it is based on
It is funny. You’d think, given the subject matter, that you are in for a gruelling couple of hours, but there is so much humour in The Greater Game that time flies. Yes, a lot of the humour is up-front before our mighty Os go to war, but there is still plenty peppered through even the darkest scenes. If anything this serves to move you even more.
It is truthful and compassionate. This is a play about relationships. Football and WWI serve as the backdrop and the catalyst for these evolving relationships, but ultimately this is a story about friendship, love, family and a team that would have done anything for each other. This focus brings a truthfulness to the piece, that is ultimately more devastating than any of the terrible statistics we might read about WWI.
It is surprising. By providing a working-class perspective on WWI (when so much of what is out there is more middle-upper class focused) it brings a fresh angle to the war story. I don’t want to spoiler the play, so all I’ll say is that there is a reference to the Pied Piper that really shook me.
It packs a surprisingly hefty punch. Given the humorous set up, I found myself relaxing into the story of these real peoples’ lives. I knew WWI was coming, but I didn’t expect to have tears dripping from my chin come the end (actually way earlier than the end, I just let them fall, trying to stop them would only make me sob out loud and I didn’t want to distract the actors). You really grow to care about these characters, although characters feels like such a weak word given the reality that these people lived and breathed, even if it was 100 years ago.
It isn’t focused on death. This is a WWI play, so it will come as no surprise that there is death, far too much death. But at the heart of this play is life, as it is just as much about those that survived (loved ones back home, and those that fought but came home changed). Which gives it a depth you wouldn’t get from simply focusing on those that lost their lives.
It is educational. I knew nothing about the history of football and loved that aspect of this play. Looking back from a modern day perspective, it is fascinating to see just how different (yet in some ways similar) it was back then. I think football fans, regardless of their team allegiance, would get a lot from this play.
It has a warmth that stays with you. This comes from the writing, the acting and the direction. The feeling of camaraderie enthuses the whole theatre, wrapping the audience up in its warm embrace. I felt, for a couple of hours, as if I was part of that team, that family, those friendships. My sense of loss at the end wasn’t just for those that died or lost loved ones, but that I had to leave the theatre and those wonderful characters behind.
It is perfectly cast. The performances are wonderful, this fabulous cast bring these amazing people back to life with such compassion, you can’t help but be absorbed by their stories. I was particularly happy to see such well rounded female parts. In fact, while I’d been on the brink of tears for a while, it was a speech by Victoria Gibson’s Mary Jane Jonas that opened the flood gates.
The Greater Game is running at Waterloo East until 25th November. You can find out more or book tickets here: https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/the-greater-game
It is selling well so I wouldn’t hang about, this is a show well worth catching.
If you’d like to check out my interviews with some of The Greater Game cast, you can jump straight to part 1 by clicking here