The Final Test, Theatre Review. Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.
Cast: Colin Baker, Gavin Kerr, Karen Ford, Nicola Weeks, Peter Amory, Michael Garland, the voice of Henry Blofeld.
Aside from the sound of leather crashing into the sturdy form of willow, there can be no better sound to a fan of cricket than Radio Four’s signature tune to Test Match Special – Booker T. and the M.G.s’ Soul Limbo. There can be no better play for a student of the sport and those that live with them than Chris Paling’s play The Final Test.
Peter is a retired man whose passion for the summer sport leads him to be happily ensconced in his garden during the cricket season. With dedication that eventually exasperates his wife of 40 years to the point of selling the house from under him, he takes it upon himself to sit in his garden and carry on listening to Henry Blofeld’s commentary whilst the new owners struggle with his presence and their own upside down lives.
For the part of Peter, the casting department could have made no finer choice than Colin Baker. Mr. Baker is no stranger to the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. In 2010 the former Doctor Who actor portrayed the incredible Inspector Morse on stage. A difficult part to play due to the iconic nature of the man who played him for many years on television, the superb and much missed John Thaw who made the role his own. Well, Colin Baker took the role on and gave it a very fresh appeal and in The Final Test, again Mr. Baker excelled in a role that could well have been written for him and one that other actors will struggle to take on in later productions.
Playing opposite Colin Baker was the excellent Peter Amory (Emmerdale’s Chris Tate) as Ray, the gruff but naturally good natured new owner of the house, was an excellent companion in arms to Peter. Whilst the two women in the play, Karen Ford and Nicola Weeks, provided an interesting counter balance to the overall schism of the play. One driven to distraction by her husband’s love of the sport and the other, cracking under the strain of her own relationship issues with her husband and her mother’s chat from the boundary.
One of the heart-warming moments of the play for all the cricket fans in the audience was the dulcet and much loved voice of Test Match Special’s own Henry Blofeld making the odd appearance. Henry Blofeld is second only to the great Brian Johnston as one of the finest commentators of the game and his voice added a depth of gravitas and overall humour to the performance.
The Final Test is one of the most keenly observed plays revolving around the spectatorship of sporting endeavour to have been performed. Well written, sharply observed and with just the right amount of good feeling that was generated by the actors to make it a cracking play to watch.
Ian D. Hall