Fly Half by Gary Lagden & Gareth Moulton, Freeman Street Market Courtyard, Grimsby. 03 October 2021.
by Gary Lagden
Freeman Street Market Grimsby
03 October 2021
The rain lashed down on the tin roof of Freeman Street Market as the small but beautifully-formed audience took their seats in anticipation of the performance of Fly Half by writer/actor Gary Lagden. This is an intimate play written for two artists who compliment each other in the performance of this work. The underscoring of the play, its beating heart, is provided by Gareth Moulton best remembered from Cutting Crew who charteed with I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight in the early 1980s. Here, Moulton provides musical accompaniment to the scenes as performed by his partner, and peppers the production with a series of fitting songs written to punctuate the performance, allowing the audience to digest the intensity of Lagden's powerful monologue.
So, what is Fly Half about? Its about rugby. In Wales. On the surface, it really is as simple as that but the depths it scales are far greater. Its about family. Its about love. Its about passion. Its about life. Its about living vicariously. Its about loss. It really is that deep.
From the moment Lagden's Darren walks on stage, you realise that he is a man that has a story to tell.With an overcoat draped over his arm and dressed in a sombre grey suit, Darren is itching... no bursting, to relate his story to the audience.
Darren's lieflong,love affair with rugby begins, as he attends his first match with his father who modelled what it meant to be a man and a father in industrial South Wales during the 70s and 80s - when rugby gave pride and identity to a nation. And the little rugby clubs, located in every town and village in South Wales, provided a community focus that demanded allegience as fierce rivalries played out on the green battlefield, but were generally forgotten over a pint in the bar later.
We are told of the photos that line the walls of the clubhouse declaring the players legends, and past glories providing a rallying cry for the players of today to take up the mantle and to follow in the footsteps of these local giants.
Darren had been a player with a promising future in the game, still amateur at the time, and relished the position he chose to play. Number 10. The fly half. Like Barry John and Phil Bennett, Darren recalls how he was nimble and quick-witted, playing the game with grace, style and a cheeky sense of humour. But all of that came crashing down when a local thug with a grudge delivered a sickening kick to his head. An amateur career fuelled by passion and pride cut short by the cruelest of blows.
Instead of fulfilling his dreams of becoming a legendary player within the ranks of his hometown, adorned in their red and black shirt, we see Darren become a family man. He meets and finds the love of his life in his beloved Sian, who would become the mother of his son, John, the apple of his father's eye, Together, the family completes Darren.
Soon, he is able to see his dreams reborn in the talent of his son, who also takes up rugby and wears the fabled 10 shirt for his hometown. An unbridled talent, allowed to play his own unfettered game for the club, dazzling all around. Soon, John attracts the attention of the regional side who drum all natural flair from him, and play him out of position. The fairytale does not have a happy ending as the contract expires and John plays one last time - rebelliously and with flair- making his father proud by unleashing his natural talent on the pitch in the eyes of an astonished home crowd.
I will not say any more than that about the story. I don't wish to spoil it for those who will be lucky enough to see it for themselves. It should be enjoyed in person, and the audience will see that rugby is not the key to this story at all. It is the personal connection to the tale of the father and his family that the audience makes. This is live theatre and its very liveness is key to enjoying the show.
Lagden is masterful in this role, one it seems he was born to play. His ease on stage charms those watching and draws them into a world they may never have experienced for themselves. But they FEEL like they have after seeing this rich and nuanced performance.
I especially enjoyed Lagden's stillness - the moments of silence between the lines. As he stands or sits, gazing into the middle distance, drawing in his audience, or making direct eye contact with those before him. He is able to tell a story in that silence, and to emote at the highest level. We see his pride, his love, his passion and his belief. We understand what motivates him and towards the end - what gets him up in the morning.
Darren is an Everyman.He is the kind of decent human being, living a small life of little significance that has the biggest story to tell. Having mentioned the silence, I need to praise the words. The text is undeniably beautiful, and poetic. It draws an audience in and despite the strong Welsh accent, the reference to tactical descriptions of rugby for non-fans, the audience wants to be a part of this world.
There is a quiet majesty in both the writing, and the delivery of his words in Gary Lagden's play.He delivers a mesmersing performance that will sit in the memory of those lucky enough to have attended a small-scale show in a quiet market courtyard, on a wet Sunday afternoon in Grimsby.
So what is Fly Half about? It doesn't have to be about rugby or Wales. It is about a father. A son. A town. A game. Its about love. That is all you need to know to access this delightfully layered, rich story.
The pity is, the size of the audience present meant that so few were able to be part of something so unique, and so moving. I sincerely hope that this play returns to the town, and that those who saw it sing its praises from the top of the Dock Tower and draw the crowd that the play rightly deserves. Gary Lagden and Gareth Moulton deserve to fill a venue the size of Blundell Park on the strength of the performance this afternoon. I cannot recommend this play highly enough.
03 October 2021
Photos copyright Ian Dearman Media Productions