The sound of Clapton Orient fans ringing out in The Greater Game play at the Southwark Playhouse gave us an instant connection to the story.
A hundred years on from the Battle of the Somme where three of the team, now known as Leyton Orient’s, best players died, Richard ‘Mac’ McFadden, William Jonas and George Scott, the star-studded cast featuring Charlie Clements and Nick Hancock brought home just how many were affected.
It begins with a scene from the Western Front where Noland ‘Peggy’ Evans, who is played by Benidorm’s Danny Walters, signs off with ‘how did we end up here?’ A poignant question which enticed the audience.
The rest of the first half followed suit with a flashback to when Mac and Jonas became best friends back in Newcastle and when Mac was first signed for the O’s for £150.
It then went on to show with what so significant about the Football Battalion, which was the instant bond and banter between teammates and the manager.
Orient was one of the top team at the time playing the likes of Fulham and Burnley and Mac scored 21 goals in his first season.
Watching the story unfold to the day they all signed up for war en mass was gripping as we were transported into 1914 when everyone thought the conflict would be over by Christmas.
Billy Holmes, the then manager for Clapton, said: “You are all heroes” and back then they were not just heroes for their country but for the fans and for the O’s.
Writer Michael Head, who also played Herbert ‘Jumbo’ Reason, intricately wrote the first and opening scene of the second half to connect the dots, how did they get there?
Another plotline showed how the wives and family coped back home such as Isabella Mac and Mary-Jane Jonas, portrayed by Laura Webb and Patsy Lowe.
And the regular updates sent from the team captain Fred ‘Spider’ Parker to the gaffer Holmes about their efforts on the front line.
The stage was perfectly set, in the round, so the audience felt part of the group and there was light relief for everyone watching and for the cast too in the character of Jimmy Hugall.
Hugall was the comedian, who played in goal for the O’s and having survived the war continued to play for the team.
As soon as the plot unfolded you felt as though you were an O and you were there with them which was an interesting set-up.
Many are affected by the tragedies of World War One to this day and you do not need to be an Orient fan to appreciate the hard work and detail that has went into the play from director Tilly Vosburgh and the entire cast.
A lot of people did not know what they were in for when they told to fight for King and Country and each scene hits you with a harsh reality and some tender and cherished moments.
Star Rating: *****
This was a review from a play I reviewed back in October. Unfortunately, I do not think they are touring at the moment but I do hope this comes back at some point.
It was a delight to watch.