Plays about cricket are suckers for bad review clichés: ‘out for a duck’, ‘bowls a googly’, ‘run out without scoring’…. This play by novelist Chris Paling seriously challenges the reviewer to come up with something new to say from the lexicon of cricketing disasters.
The first half of ‘Final Test’ was worse than a bad day’s cricket in the rain where at least you can shelter in the bar. The second half decided, in fits and spurts, to become a more serious play and there were a few moments when it actually worked.
The premise of this strangely disengaged piece is that ageing couple, Peter and Ruth, have long since ceased to notice each other. The old chap runs from life and his staid, boring marriage to the comfort of Test Match Special in the garden. She on the other hand, has had enough of being taken for granted and has decided to leave him and to sell the house without him knowing it. One unbelievable twist turns to another when cricket-mad Peter decides to stay put and become a virtual squatter in his own former home. Well, in the garden to be exact.
Meanwhile the new owners have moved in – a young couple, Susan and Ray, who seem to detest each other after only ten years of marriage. Ray is a warm-hearted East End type who has married above himself. Nicola Weeks plays the Sloaney lass and her irritating anachronistic character is one of the many reasons to catch this play out first ball.
Colin Baker (ex Dr Who and the celeb highlight for this production), plays the portly, stubborn Peter who seems oblivious to the effect his decision to stay put in what was once his garden has on the young couple and his wife. Karen Ford plays Ruth with unconvincing stoicism. She has gone off to Bexhill ‘to find herself’ in late middle age.
As you might expect, Ray and Susan are keen to get the old chap out of their garden and call in the fuzz. There follows a scene of such unbelievability that the play almost ground to a yawning halt. The PC, instead of moving Peter on, decides to teach him to tango. Don’t ask me why this scene survived the blue pencil but perhaps they had lost it. The script indeed is one of the faults of this play – it does not know whether to pitch the piece as a light frothy comedy in the Richard Harris 1980s mould, or a more serious essay on marriage and how to save it.
This was a play that either needs re-writing, much more vigorous direction (I lost count of the number of times actors seemed to be fixed to the stage as though they had stood in superglue) or some more convincing character acting. To be honest, the cast did their best but seemed a bit embarrassed to be on stage with such a thinly written piece which seemed to drag on forever without any clear resolution – rather like a cricket match.
The Final Test is playing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday 9 – Sat 14 July