‘Up n Under’ follows the struggles of a small non-professional rugby team, the Wheatsheafs, who without a coach or any wins behind them are breaking apart. Ex-pro rugby player, Arthur, places a bet with his long-time rival, Reg Welch, that he can train any team in the area to beat Welch’s formidable Cobblers Arms. When challenged to train the Wheatsheafs he realizes the momentous task he has ahead of him.
‘Up n Under’ was definitely a play of two halves for me, much like many rugby games. The first act I did not find as enjoyable as the second. The dialogue felt dated and in places sexually inappropriate. I tried to work out whether this was the intention in order to show the ideas of toxic masculinity that can be found in sport sometimes, but this was not clear. I wasn’t lured into laughing, although many others around me were, as from my experiences with cat-calling and inappropriate male behaviour it just felt uncomfortable and unnecessary at points. The stereotypical notions of ‘the wife’ and overuse of the words ‘bollocks’ and ‘knackers’ (which I haven’t ever heard anyone use) highlighted how much more this play could be modernized through its dialogue. I also felt that it cried out for a more intimate space, it felt at times that they were struggling to fill the space– every drama teachers’ life’s ambition.
However, I went into the second act hoping for more and that was certainly delivered. It was as if the cast were given their own half-time talk. The flow of dialogue was much better and there was an energy to everything that they were saying, which had been lacking in the first act. To go back on myself, I retreated from the idea that it needed a more intimate setting; the space was filled excellently with choreographed and dynamic ensemble movements. One thing which impressed me was how slick the cast were, they knew the movement of each other perfectly and demonstrated the importance not only in team sport but in performing too, of knowing how another person moves on stage. I also laughed more in the second act. The physical comedy felt all too familiar, as I too struggled with the dreaded fitness sessions during my time playing team sport. I much preferred sitting in the pub with a cold one, rather than sit-ups. The intention of the play became a lot clearer too, there was a heart to it. Whereas previously I just disliked the characters, none of them, to make a poor sporting pun, ‘got me on side’. The toxic masculinity was dulled in the second act. For me, as a young woman, this was important because I wasn’t distracted from the acting as often by how much I wanted them to stop being derogatory about women every few minutes.
They showed the difficulties many small teams face and a willingness to battle against adversity and I wanted to support them more towards the end in their fight to win. There are chunks of really good moments in this play but I would loved to have seen a greater attempt to bring the script into 2019 beyond the addition of a few songs.