REVIEW: THE GREATER GAME (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★★

the-greater-gameI am not a cynical person but when I see two, more or less, identical stories in one week, I feel that I should question it. A short time ago I watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) Brass about a group of men, all part of a Northern brass band, deciding to volunteer, as a group, to go and fight in the First World War and ending up in the Battle of the Somme. The outcome was a tragic loss of life. This evening I watched The Greater Game which if you swap “London Football team” for “Northern brass band” then the story is identical. Group of friends volunteer/Battle of the Somme/tragic loss of life.

Do either of these stories not deserve to get told? Clearly not, they are both true and both concern the great bravery of the common man and their giving of the ultimate sacrifice. And the consequential sacrifices suffered by their families back home. Is there room for both? Yes, one hundred years later there most certainly is room for both.

A member of the audience sitting next to me asked me “are you here because you love theatre or do you love football?” In my case the answer was both. But it was an interesting question which persuaded me to look carefully at the rest of the audience. Many were wearing special Clapton Orient replica football shirts (though they are now called Leyton Orient) which have been specially produced by the football club to mark the one hundredth anniversary of of the actions portrayed in the play. It is clear that the majority of the audience had an emotional, proud attachment to Leyton Orient Football Club and rightly so.

In a sense Brass was a tragic but none the less, a musical. The Greater Game had some background songs but overall was a straight play and a very fine play at that. The Greater Game concerned forty one players and members of staff of Clapton Orient Football Club who volunteered to fight for Britain in the First World War, three of whom never returned and many more were unable to carry on with their careers. It is based on the book They Took The Lead written by Stephen Jenkins.

The cast were, without exception brilliant. The team manager was played by the excellent Nick Hancock the TV presenter and comedian. Patsy Lowe (Inspector George Gently) and Laura Webb played player’s wives beautifully and emotionally. The footballers are too many to be able to mention individually but they included award winning Charlie Clements (EastEnders).

If you can, make the effort to see this, it is well worth while. Don’t let the Leyton Orient fans keep it all to themselves.

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Mark Allan

THE GREATER GAME plays at Southwark Playhouse until 15 October 2016