FOLLOWING Thursday’s result in Group D of this year’s World Cup in Brazil, there is only one place left where you are guaranteed to see England win the World Cup, and that is at Bristol Old Vic, for the next three weeks.
Written ten years ago by Carl Heap and current BOV artistic director Tom Morris (before his award-winning work on War Horse and Swallows and Amazons), this play was their third collaboration at Battersea Arts Centre, following Ben Hur and Jason and the Argonauts, and all employed similar collaborative ensemble work to tell a big story with a reasonably small cast. For this story of Alf Ramsey’s rise to prominence whilst managing Ipswich, before taking the job of England manager and leading them to victory in their home World Cup, a team of appropriately enough, eleven, play not only the victorious team of 1966, but also the six opposing teams in the cup, as well as various mothers, wives, managers, commentators, officials and press, with at least ten roles each for most of these extremely versatile actors, male and female.
Set as a play within a play, starting and ending in the present day Church of St Alfred, where a couple are about to christen their daughter Geoff, in memory of the hat-trick scoring Geoff Hurst, the congregation and vicar take us back 64 years, to England’s worst defeat, beaten by America in the 1950 World Cup, before focusing on Alf Ramsey’s rise to power, and eventually every match in the 1966 Cup. In a clever link back to the present, Geoff Hurst, the hat-trick scoring winner of the final, is played with great dexterity by a girl, Zara Ramm.
The ensemble use every theatrical device available to portray the game, from a dance-off between England’s “folk” and Uruguay’s “Latin” dancing teams, to a full-on fist fight between England and Argentina, and for the final, played on a huge green carpet, every goal is re-enacted in detail, with footballs on sticks, cardboard cut-outs, and a huge bubble for the last goal, when even Kenneth Wolstenholme’s “they think it’s all over” is faithfully reproduced.
Audience members are used to great advantage; to help illustrate football formations, to sing along where needed, join in with exercise regimes, and generally get involved whenever possible, and this helps draw us into the action. Even knowing the final score, I was captured at a very early stage, and while the cast are too good as an ensemble to single anyone out, some of the amazing physical movement and dance, particularly from Karla Shacklock and Les Bubb, the comedy timing of Stewart Wright and Roy Weskin, Glyn Grimstead’s authenticity as Alf Ramsey and the original music by Brian Hargreaves were just a few highlights of this magical and wonderful play.
Whether you are a fan of football or not, get to the Old Vic before 12th July and see this very special piece of theatre – you will be enthralled, entranced, and thoroughly entertained.