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And Did Those Feet

Nicola Mostyn watches a winning new play about Bolton Wanderers

Published on October 10th 2007.

And Did Those Feet

You might say that a play about Bolton Wanderers winning the F.A cup making its world premiere at Bolton Octagon to a mostly home-grown crowd is a bit of an easy goal. But it is a testament to this production, a special commission written by Les Smith and Martin Thomasson for the Octagon’s 40th birthday celebrations, that it transcends its provincial themes to equally delight the non-football-following, non-Boltonian theatregoer.

That’s not to say that And Did Those Feet is not entirely and unashamedly steeped in the traditions and quirks of its time and place. Set in Lancashire in 1923, it opens with its entire cast onstage doing a clog dance before it introduces the players: Ted and Martha whose impending wedding seems fated to coincide with the much-hoped-for and little-imagined event of Wanderers playing in the F.A cup final; Ted’s brother Jim, whose socialist tendencies see him kicking against the capitalist constraints of the factories and “dark satanic mills” which provide their community with their increasingly-threatened jobs. Hilda and Alf, for whom the Wanderers brings back painful memories of their football-mad son, Billy, killed in the war, and who deal with their grief by embracing and rejecting the team’s winning streak respectively. And chirpy newsagent Bob Stott, who plans to walk from Bolton to Wembley (true story) if the Wanderers can go all the way.

The play is rich in humour derived from the age-old rivalry between football teams, the antipathy between Lancashire and Yorkshire, the differences in character of the brothers and the compromises between the soon-to-be-married couple. Much of it also comes from the puckish Bob Stott (Martin Barrass), who, with his droll one-liners, worldliness and irrepressible enthusiasm for his beloved ‘Trotters’, forms an instantly likeable narrator-figure. Octagon regular Jeff ‘Cain Dingle’ Hordley is also excellent in the role of Ted but this is an ensemble piece and it’s clear from the outset that the play is equipped with a strong cast who capably interpret the production’s colloquial charm and down-to-earth edge.

The script’s meaty, earthy humour is a backed by a stripped-down set whose simplicity allows the comedy - as well as the poignancy - to shine. Under the direction of Mark Babych props – a newspaper, a bunch of glowing daffodils - take on an emblematic quality and the nude floorboards and scrubbed, lack of fuss concentrates the emotion so that several scenes featuring Alf (James Quinn) and the ghost of his dead son (Chris Finch), set to music by Bolton composer Arun Ghosh, create immediate, instinctive tears with hardly the need for words.

The set also prompts some innovative storytelling as each match-win bringing Bolton Wanderers closer to glory is recounted via a different technique including, in one memorable highlight, a silent film sequence.

As Bolton head for Wembley and Martha’s big day looks set to be the least-attended wedding in history (even the Vicar’s donning his rosette), it is left for the protagonists to follow the Trotters’ example and find their own path to fulfilling their dreams. As they do so, there are some emotional moments but the sentimentality – towards the themes of love, loss, community and the beautiful game - is well-judged and well handled throughout. A point illustrated by the motif of the title, which is taken from Blake’s Jerusalem and which is referenced almost casually at the beginning of the play before being given rousing recognition at its finale.

And Did Those Feet is not a many-layered piece of work; indeed it is rare to see something this warm-hearted and optimistic and there is hardly any doubt that the characters will resolve their difficulties by the end. But the play uses this simplicity to its favour by evoking the uncomplicated but passionate mood of a football match in which your team are winning: the trivial and the tragic can exist side by side, in a rush of pleasure the realities of life can be forgotten and, for those ninety minutes or so, anything seems possible.

And Did Those Feet is showing at the Octagon until Saturday 20 October. Tickets cost from £8.50.

Howell Croft South
01204 520661


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