by Phil Vasili.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 16 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 9, 13 March 2pm.
Audio-described 7 Mar.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 February.
Very much a play of two halves.
Forgotten moments in football seem popular at the Octagon. And Did Those Feet looked at Bolton Wanderer’s 1923 moment of FA Cup glory. Walter Tull came even earlier, as a star of English soccer pre-World War I. His strengths and personal best climaxed in the war, which did for him without the honours playwright Phil Vasili makes clear he deserved.
Never heard of him? He was something of a Mary Seacole, a Black figure, who’s waited longer for rediscovery. Vasili discovered Tull, born 1888, and had written an as-yet-unmade filmscript and biography before creating this play from his earlier script. For the first act the piece shows its original cinematic intentions, flashing through years, half-developing characters and incidents at best in a way that would be well-paced for film, with its close-ups and scenery. Played in-the-round without much setting and in neutral clothes, it seems like a rehearsal run with strong elements of character and group movement in place but not attuned to an audience.
Yet the main themes are clear. From a Kent childhood to early success with Northampton Town, Tull meets a few people who appreciate him for his personal qualities, some who respect his ability but see him as Black foremost – and others whose attitude is pure racial phobia.
After the interval, Vasili develops more focus – and more fiction. It might, in retrospect, seem over-convenient Walter take-up with a militant suffragette. But her campaigning for a better future counterpoints his unselfish generosity, looking to the final conflicts as his bravery under fire in the trenches meets a rebuff when a recommendation for officer status is denied on account of his skin colour.
As Walter, Nathan Ives-Moiba combines Tull’s speed and skill with considered thought and a sense of generosity which never grows false. Amid fleeting impersonations which hardly leave time to realise how good an Octagon cast has become over recent years, there’s particularly vivid work from Fiona Hampton’s Annie, a slight, yet forceful figure taking on all verbal comers, and Anna Tierney, capable of moving in a twist and turn from obtuse opponent to suffering soldier.
John White/Child Footballer/Reverend Adcock/Jones/Strike Leader/Argentinian Player/Bristol City Fan/Suffragette Rally Man/Magistrate/Herbert Chapman/Orphanage Boy/Northampton Policeman 2/Northampton Town Supporter 2/Music Hall Audience Member/Major Ashford: John Branwell.
Tom Billingham/Child Footballer/Drunken Sailor/Bill Brown/Jack Curtis/Peacock/Suffragette Rally Man/Northampton Policeman 1/Orphanage Boy/Northampton Town Supporter 1/Right Honourable Viscount Long/Patrick/Hibernian Player: Tristan Brooke.
Bobby Smith/Child Footballer/Drunken Sailor 3/Dyson/Mr Warnock/Terry Warren/Argentinian Supporter/Bristol City Fan/Suffragette Rally Man/Heckler 2/Orphanage Boy/Northampton Town Player/ Registration Officer/Music Hall Audience Member/Major Poole.
British Soldier/Child Footballer/Alice/Cissie/Sister Grace/David Martin/Annie Williams/Bristol City Player/Northampton Town Supporter: Fiona Hampton.
British Soldier/Child Footballer/Drunken Sailor 2/Reverend Dr Stephenson/Maurice Norman/Argentinian Supporter/Argentinian Player/Bristol City Fan/Suffragette Rally Policeman/Northampton Town Player/Northampton Town Supporter/Heckler 1/Albert Billingham/Injured Soldier/Austrian Soldier 2/Lieutenant General Sir Wilfred Robinson/Jas Bowie: Kieran Hill.
Walter Tull: Nathan Ives-Moiba.
British Soldier/Edward Tull/Daniel Tull/Argentinian Beggar/Argentinian Player/Bristol City Fan/Suffragette Rally Man/Orphanage Boy/Northampton town Supporter/Music Hall Audience Member/Injured Soldier/Australian Soldier 1/Gilbert Grindle/Hibernian Player: Marc Small.
Humphrey Owen/Child Footballer/Aunt Clara/Peter Baker/Mrs Warnock/Argentinian Player/Marion Wallace Dunlop/Bristol City Fan/Orphanage Boy/Suffragette Rally Woman/Northampton Town Supporter/Wardress/Music Hall Artist/Mother/Rita/Hibernian Player/Secretary: Anna Tierney.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer/Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Music: Adrian Johnston.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Costume: Mary Horan.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Nick Birchill.