The Ruck – Review – Lawrence Batley Theatre
By @Steve Crabtree, September 2017
I love the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. It’s individual and unique – and as we take our seats for The Ruck this evening, the stage slightly spills in to the audience, and the set-up looks exciting.
Written by Kevin Fegan, The Ruck is story about a young ladies rugby team from Batley, who are champions of their league, and Spen (played by Richard Hand) is not just the coach of these girls, he’s mentor, father and friend of them too.
Act one begins at the Batley training ground, and players Emley (Josie Cerise), Heaton (Emily Spowage), Shelley (Esther-Grace Button) are introduced to new player Iffy, who they don’t believe can play rugby because she’s an Asian girl. As they bond with Iffy, we quickly learn that each of the girls have more than just rugby on their minds. Issues of sexuality, cheating boyfriends, race and broken homes all have a part to play in the girls’ lives.
What I’m liking here is that the set doesn’t change. We’re on the rugby field, but thanks to some clever lighting the field turns in to a bedroom, changing room, living room and a social club… it’s a very well-thought-out part of the production.
We learn that Spen is trying to raise money for the girls to go on a tour of Australia, to try their hand at the sport in a different climate against some pretty tasty teams. The Ruck is surprisingly awash with songs and poetry; all executed with a good old West Yorkshire accent, which keeps act one gritty and authentic.
A couple of Rugby balls have landed in the audience by the time the interval comes on, but it adds to the laughter that we’ve been having throughout the first half, and it seems to set the story up nicely for act two.
There’s a slight set change during the interval, signifying that we’re no longer on Batley’s training pitch, but that we’ve landed on the Gold Coast and the Aussie tour is about to start. But I’m feeling that the story is becoming somewhat diluted during this period.
The love of rugby and the matches that the “Bingley Rhubarbs” are taking part in becomes a sideline to the issues that are paramount in the girls’ lives. The transition from rugby to coming-of-age is quite clear; however, the issues are dealt with too swiftly and without the depth that these talented actors and actresses could have delivered.
As we leave the aptly-named Lawrence Batley Theatre, I’m not disappointed… I laughed, and I loved the cast. But I can’t help feeling that after the first half set it up so well, I wanted just a little bit more from the second half of the show.
images: Andrew Billington