When The Eye Has Gone

James Graham Brown
Roughhouse Theatre
Lansdown Cricket Club

Colin Milburn Credit: PCA

The idea of performing a play in the bars of cricket pavilions across the UK may seem unusual, but if you consider that Roughhouse Theatre’s new play When The Eye Has Gone is based on the life of a legendary England cricketer and takes place in a bar then the proposed venues are entirely appropriate. The fact that the performance at Bath’s Lansdown Cricket Club got a standing ovation was also entirely fitting as this is a wonderful new piece of theatre.

The focus of the play is based on the life of Colin Milburn who took the cricketing world by storm in 1966 with his attacking batsmanship against the might of a West Indies team. His brilliant early successes against the fastest bowlers in the world seemed to guarantee his international future. The supreme irony, of course, is that had this early triumph been the springboard to a long and illustrious career it is doubtful that he would have become the hero of a stage play fifty years on from his test debut.

When The Eye Has Gone by James Graham-Brown, a former professional cricketer who now works as a playwright, has all the ingredients of great theatre because it dramatises the devastating effects of success and fulfilment being snatched away at the very moment that they seemed within Milburn’s grasp.

There is no doubt that Colin Milburn’s emotional and psychological decline began when he lost an eye in a car accident one night in 1969. The extent of the injuries ultimately made it impossible for him to regain his former powers as a batsman. In this regard, it could be said that a force beyond his control had laid him low and that he was the arbitrary victim of fate, but When The Eye Has Gone explores how, for all his humour, charisma and largesse, Colin Milburn’s excesses and indolence made him complicit in his own downfall and destruction.

The decision to tell his story as a one-man show proves a masterstroke in highlighting his loneliness in facing life outside the cricketing fraternity that had become Colin Milburn’s social and emotional fortress. The challenge for Dan Gaisford is not only to play the complex character of Milburn but also the fifty or so different characters who are a part of his story, and he rises to it magnificently.

Indeed, the way each persona is instantly recognisable is a testament not only to the technical brilliance of Dan Gaisford’s performance but also to Shane Morgan’s imaginative direction and the superb precision of the physical language created by movement director Moira Hunt.

One of the key elements that sets this remarkable show apart is the sensitivity to the nuances of tone and feeling that Dan Gaisford reveals as he switches moods and tempo from such moments as the torture of Milburn’s realisation of the consequences of diminished eyesight to the hilarity of his stand-up routine on a night out with his mates. Timing is all in such a piece and the delivery of the gags, the flickering pauses for pained reflection and the confidential revelations to drinking friends are all paced to perfection. Here is an actor on top of his craft and totally immersed in his role.

When The Eye Has Gone explores how Colin Milburn spent most of his life hiding behind the smiling veneer he created to prevent anyone looking into his soul and the achievement of the play is that we are given significant glimpses of the complex inner man. As such it is a deeply touching play that explores the frailties, ambiguities and contradictions of human nature. It also reminds us of how thin the margin is between success and failure.

The Professional Cricketers’ Association deserves great credit for commissioning a project which seeks to raise awareness of issues central to its members well-being, but major congratulations are due to Roughhouse Theatre for creating a brilliant show whose boundaries extend well beyond the world of cricket.

The show will be touring all 18 of the First Class Cricket Headquarters, including Lords and The Oval from 2 to 25 November.

Reviewer: Sue Gordon

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