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Review: Testmatch at Octagon Theatre ‘explores cultural clashes through cricket’

Testmatch offers a captivating exploration of cultural differences and historical truths, with sharp dialogue and powerful performances.
Testmatch at Octagon Theatre

Kate Attwell’s piece about fair play on and off the cricket field (Testmatch at Octagon Theatre) was first performed in San Francisco in 2019.

It now arrives on UK shores as a co-production between Orange Tree Theatre, English Touring Theatre and The Octagon Theatre.

It is two plays in one and the 1st half takes place in the present day during the Women’s Cricket World Cup where England and India battle it out and rain delays play. We then see behind the batting area, as the two teams discuss their differences both culturally and the way they ‘play.’

Testmatch at Bolton Octagon

If you are a cricket fan there is an obvious draw for you.

But if you are not, the play explores parts of the past in the UK that some would like to bury and deny it ever took place.

Writer Kate Attwell wanted to “acknowledge the realities of our history” through the medium of this quintessentially British sport.

A strong first-half

The 1st half works brilliantly, as you get to eavesdrop on the players’ conversations, as they attempt to all get on, whilst discussing their differences and the Brits resort to offering a cup of tea, without realising that a cup of builders tea is not to everyone’s taste.

The dialogue is pithy and conversations are loaded and we uncover stereotypes and unpack where they come from and why they still exist.

There are references to the past and what British Rule did for anyone living in India.

These scenes have urgency and the first half of the play rattles by and feels like many attacking shots going back and forth, in a beautiful game of cricket.

Writing that ‘bowls you over’

It ends with a revelation about fair play and how boundaries are crossed and by the time the interval arrived, I was truly bowled over by the wonderful writing and the performances.

The second half feels like a completely different play and it takes place in Calcutta in the eighteenth century.

The links to the first act are that two British colonial administrators discuss the concept of fair play, and it is all connected to those who have the power, namely the UK.

The cast in this original and interesting play are all terrific. Aiyana Bartlett and Bea Svistunenko have an excellent scene which explores power play, and it takes us straight back to the past and we see how very little has changed.

A politically charged second-half

The second half is playful and yet has political messages running through it but it soon runs out of steam and momentum, as the messages are repeated and you long for some scenes in the present day which would add more bite when you need it.

Diane Page directs with real intensity in the first half, it is the second half that just feels flat and less fully formed, as the narrative does go around in circles, but there is the odd funny and sardonic line of dialogue which reminds you of why you have enjoyed act one so much.

Testmatch is as unpredictable as a game of cricket. I just wish that the fast-paced, witty and educational home truths that filled the first half could be extended to build on the momentum of what is essentially a 55-minute short and perfectly formed play. Less would mean more for the audience.

Ticket for Testmatch at Octagon Theatre

Testmatch is at the Octagon Theatre until 1st June and can be booked here

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