REVIEW: It’s in the Blood at Mahdlo Centre in Oldham

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RUGBY League has a rich history of dramatic moments. Super League’s greatest ever game saw Eddie Hemmings give his “Wide to West” line, George Fairbairn’s penalty miss handed Australia the 1972 World Cup, and when Don Fox collapsed after a failed conversion at Wembley, he was immortalised by Eddie Waring as “a poor lad”.

That drama rarely translates from the stadium to the stage. ‘Up ‘n’ under’ is far less renowned than some of John Godber’s other works, such as ‘Bouncers’, or ‘Teechers’. It was therefore a wise decision from Mick Martin, the director of ‘It’s in the blood’, to not attempt to recreate the on field action.

This production concentrated on the stories off the pitch and used the advantages at its disposal fully. Former Rochdale Hornets and Oldham players recounted tales from their careers at the clubs and took on the roles of their younger selves.

At times the use of the players limited the performance, as this was their first experience of acting. Aged 79, dual-code international Malcom price was the oldest in the cast and occasionly it was apparent he was searching for his cue, but when he told his story of travelling Great Britain to face New Zealand, it resonated in a genuine manner which could not have been matched by any Oscar winner.

The former players were supported by amateur performers, who were also based in the local area, which allowed the play to remain close to its roots. It also enabled the production to insert changes in pace and added a dynamic of contrast between the largely youthful support cast and the ex-pros they accompanied.

All four performances of ‘It’s in the Blood’ were held across Oldham and Rochdale, with this particular one staged at the Mahdlo Centre in Oldham on October 27th.

The play itself took advantage of these locations. It catered to its audience with regional references, led by Tony Gourley’s amused recollections of the notoriety held by areas of Rochdale.

‘It’s in the Blood’ was always going to cater for its audience, as to a large extent, it was produced from its audience. The play was part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery fund and Rugby League Cares, which saw former players and fans reminisce about the sport’s past in the area.

Unlike ‘Broken Time’, Martin’s first play based on Rugby League, he was as much a curator of others stories as he was a writer. Free entry with an optional donation then saw those who contributed accompany the rest of the audience to witness the two hour production, created as a result by Martin and his cast.

The locally embedded piece did feature some foreign flair. Rochdale has the UK’s largest Fijian community outside of London and Emon Ratu told the story of the players who moved over along with his father in the 60s and 70s to spark that.

He also narrated the story of his parents meeting, as it was acted out before him and in a particularly moving moment, showed immense pride as he explained he was the second of what has now become three generation of the Ratu family to represent Rochdale Hornets.

Tony Pratt displayed the most confident performance of all the ex-pros and despite having less wider significance than other stories, his tale of playing on his wedding day got the largest reaction from the audience. Other moments brought tears, but as Pratt walked down the aisle, narrating over his shoulder to the audience, he caused uncontrollable laughter.

The performance finished without laughter, or tears, but instead a song. The cast and the audience were united again, in singing which lacked the skill, polish or spectacle of the West End in the same way the play had lacked the skill, polish or spectacle of St.Helens’ “Wide to West” moment. Action was being showcased 10,000 miles away at the World Cup. Community was being showcased in Oldham.

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