“A comedy about cricket? That sounds like it’s going to be terrible…” The very words uttered by the person who nabbed the spare ticket to see this hours before going to see this delightfully thought provoking and humorous play by Chris Paling. The person in question, and myself in fact, are both cricket lovers, but as I rightly pointed out, the cricket is probably just some sort of clever sub text for whatever is going on throughout the performance. I love being proved right.
The Final Test revolves around the marriages of two couples, both at different points down the road. Peter (Colin Baker) and Ruth (Karen Ford), have been married for 40 years, but when Ruth unexpectedly declares that she’s sold the house and is moving to Bexhill-on-Sea with another man, Peter stays put right there in the garden listening to the final test at the Oval on the radio. In come the other married couple, Ray (Peter Amory) and Susan (Nicola Weeks), who have the shock and discomfort of an elderly, stubborn and out of touch man squatting in the garden when they move into their new house.
The star performance here is by far and away Colin Baker. He plays Peter in such a way as to make us believe he is selfish, pedantic and irritating but never un-likeable. Even when it seems like he couldn’t care less about Ruth moving away because he wants to check in on the batting collapse of his beloved England cricket team, you still get the impression this isn’t malicious, more a lack of understanding. The way Peter interacts with both Ray and Susan is also a delight and his effect upon them; the kind hearted and decent Ray sees part of his future in Peter and the cold, scarred Susan brings Peter to a point of realisation which is great to watch.
The humour is wonderfully consistent throughout and works at it’s best with the back and forth between Peter and Ruth as they try tackle the serious issues of their marriage but can’t help getting into a discussion about the vegetable patch or something else entirely inane. The lessons on marriage and companionship are bold for all to see and the way the characters realise these can at times hit hard, which actually contrasts well to the humour. One point caught me out completely, for all the money I was expecting another joke, but the realisation and statement Peter makes hit me like a rock in the stomach.
Overall this is a great evenings entertainment, and hearing my friend tell me that the show was “genuinely excellent” on leaving the theatre meant that it was a triumph in more ways than one.
The Final Test is at Derby Theatre from 2-7 July 2012 for more information and to book tickets please click here