Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson

Chris England

Menier Chocolate Factory

(2006)

Review by Philip Fisher

Sports fanatic and actor, Chris England has already achieved success with a television football comedy, An Evening With Gary Lineker and various other books and projects around a number of other sports.

In Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson, he attempts to repeats the Lineker formula, using his namesake's 2003 Rugby World Cup success as the basis for a comedy.

Like the match itself, the play, set in the club's bar and changing rooms designed by Anthony Lamble, lasts for about two hours including an interval between halves.

TV comic Norman Pace plays Dave, the chairman of a rugby club under threat of losing his position to a brash Australian Matt, played by Michael Beckley complete with an unexplained black eye.

As the match progresses, complicated shenanigans develop around the characters and the election. Neither party is above a dirty tricks campaign and eventually, a third feminist candidate The Bill's PC Kerry Young, Beth Cordingly as Nina, throws her hat into the ring.

Rugby fans (and no one else), should they attend, will get the chance to relive the happy day when England were on top of the world and that should bring a smile to their faces.

England's main joke is related to club fly half Jake (Kevin Wathen who not only looks rather like Wilkinson but impressively kicks a rugby ball just like him). He gets it right down to the egg-laying crouch while his hands do something weird that, if not obscene, could be opening one of the many bottles of Grolsch that appear from behind the bar through the early-morning.

Every time that the real Jonny kicks at goal in the World Cup, young Jake does likewise out on the rugby field and through some kind of telepathy, matches Wilkinson kick for kick 74 times in a row.

This, when allied to a little bit of hanky-panky, appeals to a soccer journalist from the Observer with gutter tendencies, played by the writer.

England loves throwing in complications so there are at least three affairs, a baby fathered by a nun played by Tony Bell who will insist on shouting every line, more blackmails than Wilkinson kicks goals and a young Australian woman hired in to seduce some bloke or other - she gets it wrong so why shouldn't we be confused? If that lot isn't enough, by the end there is also almost a death.

Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson would make a great TV sitcom but it does not have the legs for a full two hours. It is due to play in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer and England would do well to simplify a plot that would even confuse John le Carré so that he can concentrate on the really funny moments, thereby delivering a play of no more than an hour.

Even so rugby fanatics are clearly the target audience and, if like the characters on stage, they have a few beers to warm themselves up, should have a whale of a time wallowing in nostalgia.