Capturing the competitive highs and lows of amateur rugby union, this Welsh adaptation of John Godber’s award-winning Up ‘n’ Under is an enjoyable production. However, beyond the bellyache laughs one finds many cheap gags and the gut-punching disappointment of a vital missed penalty.For this intimate new stage tour, John Godber has exchanged Hull rugby league for union sevens in the South Wales Valleys. As a squad, the teamwork of the cast complements each other well under Richard Tunley’s measured direction. There are entertaining moments of energetic physical theatre and slow-motion movement as the four-player squad get into shape and later humorously play both sides in the big match.
One to watch is Gareth Bale - Richard Parker 2 - hauntingly plausible as the downtrodden Arthur. A retired rugby player, Arthur ends up placing a stupid bet with his arch rival Reg that sees him coaching the worst team imaginable for a big local game. Giles Thomas is convincing as hot-headed Reg, but also reveals a light touch with comedy as the teacher who “could’ve played for Wales” while Sara Lloyd Gregory lacks the required bombshell spirit as the gym-owning squad mascot Hazel.
Successfully transcribing such a script to Wales involves more than altering place names and match rules. After seeing great home-grown theatre that manages to include both stereotypical elements of rugby and song whilst avoiding cliche and dumbing down - Dafydd James’ Llwyth - Up ‘n’ Under often feels too obvious, emphasising how much our theatrical landscape has already moved on.
Image: Emyr Young