The Ashes responses from Critics’ Circle
The storyline of the play follows Mr Jardine, who captained England and decided to use an elusive strategy, the leg theory! Once Australians saw it they were rather distraught and agitated that the ball was being aimed at their players and the England team, Larwood and Jardine in particular received some rather harsh responses from the crowd! Despite the theory being dangerous is wasn’t in any way a breach of regulations and when asked to apologise both men refused because they decided that they shouldn’t have to.
Director Giles Croft makes fabulous use of projection screens in this piece and very cleverly uses images to show you what’s happening. Furthermore he very cleverly uses the stage for bowling practice and makes it look incredibly realistic without actually seeing them bowl!
An extremely captivating storyline which featured many fabulous performances from the actors and on the whole was a very engaging play!
Mark Jarvis, Bilborough College
Well, The Ashes did not hit me for six, but it certainly caught me out! The play follows the story behind, and the aftermath of, the infamous body-line tour where two Nottingham cricketers caused uproar when they used ‘leg theory’ to terrorise the Australian batsmen. If this sounds all too ‘crickety’ for you don’t despair, as it also subtly examines the class divide in cricket at the time, and how important winning ‘the right way’ is.
When I heard the play was going to involve cricket, I wondered how they create such a game on stage, but they cleverly avoid this problem by using projections throughout the story. These proved particularly effective, in particular the coin toss, where you watched the coin flip and turn in the air, making you really feel as though this was a momentous occasion, a particular favourite moment of mine. However, as slick as these projections were, I felt the production overall was too reliant on these to tell the story, in particular in the second act, where a great deal of time consisted of us, and the actors, watching projections of the original footage. This was interesting in a historical sense, but I felt it was not the most effective way of telling the story, and it did get tiresome after a while, especially if you were not a cricket purist! However, these projections were broken up by some fine performances, in particular Jamie De Courcey as the prickly England captain Jardine, who started of the play so sure of his morals and what was right, change into a completely different person before the audiences eyes- a truly excellent performance. As an ensemble cast of seven, each played at least three parts, and on the whole managed the wide range of accents needed, (the play features Australian, proper English and Nottinghamshire), although I felt some of the Australian accents could have used slightly more work, it was still an impressive ensemble performance.
To sum up then, The Ashes, though not without faults, is a pleasant surprise of a play, if you are cricket mad or no nothing at all, there is something for everyone. This seems a good place to stop, as I can’t think of any more cricket puns- I am truly stumped!
Joe Hennessy, Bilborough College
The Ashes was a very enjoyable play, for someone who knows nothing about cricket I understood the whole performance.
The performance was new it has never been done before. The plot involves showing the journey of how Larwood went from playing in England to playing against the Australians in the Ashes in the 1930’s. In the first half it shows the time in England and what was happening leading up to the final games in Australia.
There is a cast of only seven people and is well written and well performed by the whole cast. In my opinion this performance was an excellent show and it doesn’t matter if you know nothing about cricket. During the performance there are bits of comedy, you can have a laugh and at the same time learn the history of Larwood and his journey in the Ashes in 1930’s.
The Ashes is worth seeing.
Fern Whelpton, Eastwood Comprehensive
The play focuses around Nottinghamshire born cricketer Harold Larwood, the world famous bowler (the fastest of his time), and the infamous ‘fast leg theory’ (hurtling the ball towards the batsman, thus forcing him to defend himself), used during the Ashes Test series of 1932-33. The Ashes also looks at the relationship between England and Australia around this time, and how this became more and more strained as the series went on, as well as relationships inside the English team itself.
I immediately scanned the stage as the curtain rose and was quite overwhelmed, in a good way. The actors were onstage from the outset. A solitary screen was hanging at the back of the stage, displaying either old footage or various snippets of information, with an old-fashioned microphone situated underneath. A small number of dark, wooden chairs formed two symmetrical lines (roughly four either side) towards ‘stage left’ and ‘stage right’, both of which were facing inwards. During Act two the set was pretty much the same, the differences being three screens instead of one, a large section of grass centre stage and the chairs from Act one were replaced with white, seaside-looking chairs. The set, although not the most elaborate I’ve ever seen, was used beautifully by the actors and, along with them, helped in bringing the play to life.
All actors showed fantastic stage presence and really brought their characters to life. My personal favourite was Paul Trussell who played Frank Foster, mainly due to the fact that his character came across as an extravert, as well as having some brilliant lines of dialogue. I really enjoyed his moment of forgetfulness in the ‘keys’ scene and the moment where Frank becomes impatient whilst waiting for the wine to arrive in the dinner scene. I also loved Karl Haynes in the role of Harold Larwood and Jamie de Courcey in the role of Douglas Jardine. Mr. Haynes portrayed his character with gritty realism and Mr de Courcey exuded a real sense of determination in not being told what to do on how to play the game.
After seeing this play, it’s hard to pick a defining moment, as it was all so enjoyable. There are a small number, however, that stick in my mind; I particularly liked the scene at the beginning of act two where Frank Foster and Douglas Jardine do a coin toss. That was perfectly timed. I liked the scene where the English players discuss tactics over dinner and the audience see the table from above via a camera. I thought that was extremely clever, as I’d never seen live footage used in a play before. The other scene that stuck in my mind was when real-life footage was being played on the screen and the actors were re-enacting the footage in front of the audience. The timing was impeccable and the detail that went into that scene was incredible.
I feel that the director, Giles Croft, has most certainly succeeded in bringing this piece of sporting history alive. I loved how Mr Croft has interpreted the play. You can clearly see this by the use of the space, set and how the actors bring the story to life. I feel as if his aims and objectives were most definitely achieved.
Overall, though, I thought this was a magnificent production, due to the fact that it was so well acted and it is a true story with local Nottingham connections.
If there are any tickets left for the remainder of the run, I would recommend getting hold of one. This play is not just for cricket lovers, but for everyone, as the plot is easy to grasp, even if you know nothing about the sport. Cricket lovers, though, will be relish the experience. 5/5 stars…
This is the second play I’ve seen directed by Giles Croft and I would definitely see more of his work, due to the fact that he has a natural talent for adapting great plays/stories.
The Ashes tells the story of Harold Larwood, a Nottinghamshire miner turned fast bowler, playing for England against Australia in the 1933 Ashes. The play revolves around the controversy of ‘leg-theory’ bowling, which is bowling towards the batsman’s legs, instead of directly to their bat. This is a new commission by the Playhouse, written by Michael Pinchbeck, and directed by Giles Croft.
The play is set on an almost bare stage, which doubles up for locations in England, and in Australia. Images to show setting and film reel clips of the 1933 Ashes are projected onto 3 screens which hang above the actors.
For a non- cricket fan, I was apprehensive about seeing this play, and once I got past the first 15 minutes (in which there was a lot of cricket terminology used), I found that I enjoyed the first half. Karl Haynes gave an excellent performance as Harold Larwood, both in 1933, and in the parts of the play set in later years. Furthermore, Daniel Hoffman- Gill, playing Voce also gave a sound performance, with a rather impressive consumption of ale! The other actors, who multi roled were also impressive, and their use of Australian accents was surprisingly good. The transition into the interval was one of the best I have ever seen, providing the first glimpse of someone actually playing cricket.
However, I didn’t enjoy the second half as much. I found that the second half catered mainly for the cricket fans, with lots of footage of cricket games being shown. I also felt that Harold Larwood’s side of the story could have been shown more, as it seemed to be from the cricket officiating body’s point of view.
Overall though, an enjoyable show, but I would recommend it to those who have some knowledge of cricket.
Bronwen Webster, Bluecoat Comp
Only the title and the name Harold Larwood are needed to spark the imagination of any cricket fan. You could guess the narrative in a second if only you had been inspired by that wicket and stumps on your school field. However, many theatre goers and acting enthusiasts will need a heads up. The play by Michael Pinchbeck is based on the famous test series against Australia in which the English fast bowlers, Harold Larwood and Bill Voce introduced a new form of fast bowling, bodyline. This ignited strained relations between not only the teams involved, but the countries as well. Packed with controversy and unsportsmanlike behaviour; the story transfers brilliantly onto the stage.
At first glance, the set of The Ashes is nothing to shout about, but once the play has started the audience can appreciate its significance. With a few chairs down both sides and large screens in the centre, the stage enhances the reality of the events with contemporary footage and simple staging. There is no need to over-think the set as the audience doesn’t need to be convinced to believe it. The set also solves the problem of how to play cricket on stage. From the glimpse the audience has at the actors cricketing skills, (although enthusiastic, not particularly believable) it seems that the footage acted as a match winner for The Ashes.
The Ashes is fundamentally a play about a historic cricketing event, but there are many themes which give the play more depth. The theme that interested me the most was the separation of the classes. Giles Croft’s brilliant directing clearly showed the audience the difference between the professional Players (men from lower class backgrounds who were paid to play cricket) and the Gentlemen (richer men, only Gentlemen could captain a team). The most effective symbols for this theme are what the cricketers are drinking, and their accents. Credit must be given to the actors who portray the demeanour and raw spirit of the working class men remarkably. With famous actors and actresses earning as much as they do, you would hope that they could hold an accent as convincingly as The Ashes cast.
Overall, The Ashes is extremely enjoyable and as theatre often does, will make you feel like a better person afterwards. Of course I would recommend this play to cricket fans everywhere but due to the depth of the themes and the brilliance of the characterisation it is a must-see for anyone wanting a good night at the theatre. This exceptional interpretation of the cricketing legend has gone beyond the boundaries of drama. I would hope that a new genre could arise to unite the ever so different worlds of sport and theatre, with The Ashes leading the way.
Lizzie Hyland, Rushcliffe Comp
The Ashes – a new play written by Michael Pinchbeck and directed by Giles Croft – is being performed at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday the 2nd until Saturday the 17th of September at 7:45pm.
The Ashes is a true story about Harold Larwood and how he came to play cricket for England. The play starts in Mansfield where Larwood (Karl Haynes) and his friend Bill Voce (Daniel Hoffmann-Gill) are playing for their local cricket team and takes you through their journey to become England champions.
They didn’t have much of a set but they used what they did have wisely. In the first act there was a projection screen at the back and about eight chairs on stage, which the actors sat on instead of going off, giving the performance a very intimate feeling. On the screen they showed short films of the real Larwood and Voce, from which the actors copied their movements, which they did well. In the second act the set was expanded to have a small portion of the pitch, and two more screens.
I thought that the acting was very good, particularly how they switched from accent to accent when they changed characters – from Nottingham, to London, to Australian. Although every actor was good, Sarah Churm (As Larwood’s wife) stood out for me.
Overall I thought it was good, even though I didn’t understand everything not being a cricket fan.
I would particularly recommend The Ashes to cricket fans.
Georgie Daunt, Highfields
WARNING – This play contains dangerous tactics and irresponsible bowling in its story. This gentleman is an example of how dangerous this cricket tactic can be. The effects of bodyline bowling are severe, and include cracked bones, and large bruises. Though this type of bowling seems to follow the follow the rules of the game it is not fair, not sporting, and most certainly not cricket.
Though bodyline bowling can be quite unpleasant to watch, this play on the other hand isn’t. A true story of desperation to win the ashes leading to dangerous and unsporting play, this astonishing story will amaze and amuse you.
Joe Daunt, Highfields
Even though this is the first time the show has been shown in theatre it started with bang. The story follows the infamous cricket strategy called “Leg Theory” and two of the best bowlers in history.
The play is about the Cricket tour “The Ashes”. The first half based in England and the second in Australia. The fast bowler Harold Larwood who was famous for his use of the “Leg Theory” which was where a bowler blows straight at the batter. The batter then has to defend themselves which usually gets the ball out or they have to move out the way or get hurt. This was effective enough for the English to win the Ashes but many countries thought it wasn’t fair and was too close to cheating to be allowed.
Even though the cast was small they managed to show cricket effectively.
Using big screens hung from the ceiling they showed clips of real match which the only female character, playing Larwood’s wife, sits centre stage and watches. Her reactions are good since she can’t see the screens as they are behind her.
The big question for this production is “Will I understand it even if I have no idea about cricket?” The answer for me was “a bit”. I understood it but didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have if I had been a cricket fan.
Even if the story wasn’t my type of thing I enjoyed the acting. They used a mix of physical theatre and ‘straight’ acting, along with the screens, which was a perfect match.
Lucy Daunt, Highfields
On the 6th of September 2011, I had the pleasure of attending the premier of The Ashes at Nottingham Playhouse written by Nottingham’s Michael pinchbeck. The Ashes is the story of Harold Larwood and his struggle between fame and a sport that is dear to his heart. When Larwood became a professional cricketer for England his life began to change, nobody really knew much about the miner’s incredible sporting talents until he was selected for England’s cricket team before playing against Australia in the ashes in Sydney. Here he was to make history by unleashing a painfully good tactic called the leg theory.
The main themes of the play are to do with international relations and the differences between working and upper classes. In the Ashes, to represent classes they keep the separate classed actors on separate sides of the stage and there is a strong change in accent between the two groups. Body language and movement was also a big part of this as there wasn’t really any set, the messages from actor to audience had to be clearly carried out through posture and stance, which I thought was portrayed very well.
The set for the play was very simple, it was a plain black half raked stage with four wooden chairs down either side. For the entire first half as it was set in England. This set gave the actors a real chance to show what they were made of; I thought the way in which the actors used props to create a scene rather than to create an image really showed the standard of the play. To help with the audience’s imagination of class and imagery there was also a large projection screen in the centre of the back wall of the set, this was to highlight the most important moments of the play and to show a glimpse of how the rooms would look of which the actors are in. For the second act most of the set stayed the same however the characters had moved to Sydney so the chairs turned white and the screen in the centre of the back wall gained two smaller screens on either side which also played the same images.
In my opinion I thought all the actors where of a particularly good standard, and made the plot very easy to follow, at the beginning of the night I was curious to how I would possibly understand the play when I do not know the slightest about cricket! However even after a few cricket specialist jokes I still managed to follow the tale of Larwood and Voce without a second thought, all in all I would definitely recommend The Ashes as it a high class performance once again from Nottingham Playhouses Giles Croft. 8/10
Georgia Young, Chilwell Comp
On Tuesday 6th September, Nottingham Playhouse released their first showing of “The Ashes”, following English Bowlers Bill Voce and Harold Larwood in their life of fame and frustration in the world of cricket in 1933 England.
This in-depth piece not only recreates those ever memorable moments of the England v. Australia cricket war, but also opens the door to the unseen world of cricketer life, of devious winning theories, unimaginably fast bowling, and where hatred and blame were the small print in your job description.
Director Giles Croft creates this piece with flair and originality to welcome not only cricket fanatics but sport newbie’s alike. This fantastic comedy is a wonderful piece and shows the great abilities of a well acclaimed director and his team at the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company.
Kirsty Blair, Friesland School
On the 6th of September I attended the premier of ‘The Ashes’ at the Playhouse in Nottingham; I thoroughly enjoyed the performance that evening and didn’t think I would, as I know nothing about cricket, however the play is all about the background of Harold Larwood and Bill Woodfull and the story of the game; there is no particular reference to how cricket is played, therefore anyone interested in the Ashes, but knows nothing about cricket will enjoy the piece, just as I did.
All the cast members were able to switch very clearly from Australian to Yorkshire accents, as they regularly changed characters throughout the piece, this meant that the audience could understand which character the actors were playing and when. They also showed this by changing their costumes from white cricket outfits to jackets and suits; this also made the characters more believable and come to life on the stage.
Before the performance I had wondered about how the director had set the actual cricket matches and as it came to that scene, I loved the effect of the films being projected onto large screens near the back of the stage; I thought the use of black and white image made the performance nostalgic and reminiscent from that era.
The directors staged the scenes from an interesting and different view of point, especially in the scene where the England cricket team are practicing their bowling or leg theory, this scene shows the main action being performed at the front, right hand side of the stage and the other team members running down the back of the stage practicing bowling; what is clever about this is, the captain isn’t directly looking at the players, in fact he is looking out to the audience, in this scene he should be looking down the pitch at the wicket, but the directors have shown this scene in two different areas of the stage, making it unique and intriguing. This scene was not confusing or misleading and I’m sure all the audience knew what was happening as it was simple and effective.
Sarah Churm who played Lois Larwood, Harold’s wife; performed a beautiful monologue towards the end of the piece, about her husband after he had died and the everyday events like rain reminding her of him. She gave so much emotion and passion into her piece that I no longer believed I was at the theatre and that she hadn’t created the piece at that very moment, it almost flowed off the end of her tongue, I believed every word she said and loved how she played her character throughout the performance.
Overall a wonderful performance and I was compelled by every second of it.
Alice Dolman, Colonel Frank Seeley School
This September, Nottingham Playhouse certainly hits the wicket with the release of their most recent production; ‘The Ashes’ by Nottingham-based writer Michael Pinchbeck. Directed by the Playhouse’s highly respected Artistic Director, Giles Croft, ‘The Ashes’ tells of the unforgettable cricket matches played between England and Australia in 1932.
The play begins in 1932, with the England team in desperate search for a new tactic to put against Australian batsman Donald Bradman and save themselves from the humiliation he caused before. Upon discovering the idea of leg theory, cricketing hero Harold Larwood (Karl Haynes),is taken from a Nottingham mine to become England’s secret weapon for their now infamous ‘bodyline’ attack. Bowling fast (90mph!) at the batsman’s body, Larwood tears the Australian team apart. Amongst accusations of ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’, diplomatic relations between the two countries strain. As a dramatic tale of conflict between two countries, two classes and two men played out on the pitch and in the pavilion unfolds, you’ll find that cricket isn’t always as boring as you may have thought.
I personally, have never been interested in cricket. I must admit that, when entering the auditorium, I was expecting to spend the next few hours bored out of my brains. I don’t think I was the only one thinking this either. However, I found that the play was less about cricket than i thought, and was actually a very gripping tale that happened because of cricket. If you think this play is only for cricket fans, then you’re wrong. This is a play that everyone will enjoy, with laughter, tears and tension. See this play.
I loved how the screens were used to show the original footage of the game, as this allowed the directors and actors to make interpretations, but not to verge away too much. Being able to see the game gives the audience a real sense of how it felt to be watching at the time, and also gives the opportunity for the audience to develop a personal opinion of what happened. This was a great combination of old and new and a fantastic way to show audiences the action on the pitch, and off the pitch alongside each other for the first time.
The performance was well staged, and the accents were all good, however, Karl Haynes as Larwood’s accent was the best by far, I can only assume this is his natural
Beatrice Findley, The Becket R.C. School
My Dearest Harold,
I miss you too. Of course I miss you; it’s not the same without you here with me. What’s the weather like over there? I know you always say it’s as hot as it is down the pits, but I can never quite tell if you’re having me on or not! You’ll have to describe it to me one day, or even take me to Australia so I can find out for myself! Is it hot like Skegness gets during July and August, because blimey that’s hot!
I keep hearing people talking about this leg theory and bodyline bowling? Whatever it is, you seem to be stirring up quite frenzy in the cricketing world. Just – make sure you don’t do any serious damage Harold. Please. Just play your best and keep a smile on your face and it’ll all be okay.
Every time I go down to the pictures to see you, it reminds me of when we first met. It’s odd really. I remember the time when I first saw you, and I got this funny tingling feeling inside. It makes the corners of my mouth turn up and a slight blush spring to my cheeks. I think it’s because I haven’t seen you in what feels like forever, so each time I see you on that huge screen it is almost as if I’m meeting you for the first time again, and again.
June keeps asking for you too. She uses one of your old jumpers as a comforter when she goes to sleep at night. She’ll just lay there, the tiniest smile on her face, as she breathes in the smell. She calls it ‘daddy jumpy’. I wish you could see her. She’s got much bigger since you left. I‘m seriously thinking that she’s going to be more excited than I will be when you come back!
But most of all, I miss you. I miss the way you always make me smile when I’m having a bad day. The way you’ll hold me as I fall asleep in bed. I miss the sound of your voice when you come home. How you’ll take me to the pictures and buy me an ice cream. I miss how happy you make June. I miss holding your hand as we walk along the street together. I miss everything about you – the good things, and the bad things. I pray every night that you’ll play well, that you’ll keep healthy and fit and, most importantly, that you’ll come home safe and sound.
I love you Harold Larwood, don’t you forget it.
All my love as always,
Ellie Murphy, The Beckett School
A monologue from the Australian point of view
The ‘leg theory’ was a brilliant idea, the English team had truly sussed a way to take down Don who is practically unbeatable. I am bruised all over my body and a lot of my team mates are badly injured. A ball hit one of them on the head but there is something so intriguing about England’s fastest bowler Larwood, the way he runs up and truly masters the skill of this technique is inspiring. You can’t blame the players. If my captain came up with the ’Leg theory’, a plan to completely demolish the other team I think I would play it. I do hate the way England is playing of course, but it is genius at the same time. We are big competition for England and if ’Leg theory’ or ’Bodyline’ which we like to call it is the only way they can win then so be it. My team and I will still play the rules we know and if we lose then we know we were cheated, and if we win then we are double the champions we thought we were. I don’t blame England I wish them luck in the rest of the ashes.
What better place to host the world premiere of The Ashes, the story of a Nottinghamshire Cricketing hero than the Nottingham Playhouse? The touching story of Harold Larwood’s bowling career paves the way for an excellent and enjoyable performance.
The Ashes manages to capture the trials and tribulations of the cricket tour of 1932 brilliantly; portraying relationships on a small scale between the team and family members and relations on a large scale between England and Australia. The footage of the original game is incorporated seamlessly into the play and the way the actors mirror the footage is flawless and an inventive way to include history. The game is successfully showcased through a small number of necessary props and the lack of scenery really enables the audience to focus in on the historical figures and issues addressed in the play such as social class divides.
Informative whilst at the same time emotive, The Ashes is easily comprehensible and entertaining to those who know nothing about cricket. It is definitely worth watching, if not for the cricket, for the moving moments between Larwood and the other characters.
My first impression of The Ashes was that, being about cricket, the show would have a rather selective audience and generally not appeal to people who aren’t followers of cricket. I was quickly proved wrong, however; The Ashes was a great piece of theatre that proved welcoming to people from all backgrounds. Of course, this was much more than a piece of theatre about cricket; its exploration of the class system and what fair play truly is were two themes that made the audience engage on a more thoughtful level.
One point throughout were the consistently strong performances throughout the performance; I was particularly impressed with the mastery of accents throughout, ranging from the Australian telegrams to Larwood’s very specific Nottinghamshire accent. I really felt that each performer had something refreshingly new to offer each time they entered a scene, and because of this, there was a constant source of new interest for the audience. I liked the simple use of screens for the cricket footage, as it would have been hard to stage such a thing and I found it convincing to stage it as a film reel which Larwood’s wife Lois would then watch. I found her performance particularly endearing, as towards the end of the play she delivers a monologue that is pitch-perfect in its recognition that Larwood is a changed man.
The minimalistic staging works because it quite simply serves its purpose; the chairs are to be sat on and the screens are to be watched. Of course, thanks to the underlying themes that run through the play, there is something for sport and theatre enthusiasts in tandem.
If I were to make one criticism, it would be the length of the Second Act; whilst it was still fully engaging, at 70 minutes compared to the First Act’s 45 minutes, I severely felt the need to stretch at the end! However, this is only very minor nit picking; The Ashes, thanks to an accessible, well-written script, some great performances and a story that still feels completely relevant today, is a triumph in my mind!
Luke Marsden, Highfields School
I am not ashamed to admit that I have never seen a game of cricket in my life, nor have I felt the urge to fill this absence of what I assume is deemed a national sport; the list of things I’d rather watch rather than sport is, unsurprisingly, quite long. Somehow, I had always also managed to get out of playing the game in PE at school too, excluding the extremely rare rounds of “Quick Cricket” that had to be endured when the rounders equipment was already being used. So, when I went to see The Ashes at the Nottingham Playhouse, I wondered how on earth I’d be able to face up to the challenge of deciphering roughly two hours of cricket lingo with literally no prior knowledge other than having heard the word “wicket” used a lot.
In actual fact, I was wrong, as, for the most part, any cricket gobbledegook used seems to just fit right in into the conversations and doesn’t interrupt knowledge of the flow of the plot at all! I say “for the most part”, as the last 30 minutes of the play are very cricket-heavy and relies a lot on previous knowledge of the sport.
However, cricket or no cricket, The Ashes is a beautiful piece of theatre, not only in the way certain scenes are played on stage (there is a particularly interesting scene in which the team practice their bowling upstage whilst other action takes place downstage too that stands out), but also with the use of original 1930s footage being played on screens to portray scenes that obviously cannot be performed with such magnificence on a stage. This coupled with the brilliant acting from the cast makes me forget that The Ashes is about cricket. And I really dislike cricket.
Sally Morton, The Bluecoat School