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Powerful Greater Game play lives up to name and tells a story which needs to be told

PUBLISHED: 18:00 07 November 2018

The Greater Game cast smile for the camera after a show at Waterloo East Theatre (pic: Paul Levy/Orient Outlook Podcast).

The Greater Game cast smile for the camera after a show at Waterloo East Theatre (pic: Paul Levy/Orient Outlook Podcast).

Archant

Everyone involved in the Greater Game play deserves credit for bringing these people back to life in such a poignant way

The Greater Game play before it gets underway at the Waterloo East TheatreThe Greater Game play before it gets underway at the Waterloo East Theatre

Leyton Orient FC are proud of their history when it comes to the club’s involvement in World War One and if anyone is unsure as to why then you must go and watch ‘The Greater Game’ play.

Fittingly, this show is a tale of two halves – the first full of the laughter and camaraderie, which you would expect from a bunch of footballers, but the second is an emotional rollercoaster.

The writer of the play, Michael Head, admitted: “It is a bit more difficult to watch at points and I was a little bit worried about that because some people might be uncomfortable watching it, but the feedback has been amazing.”

The ‘first half’ sets the scene with Richard McFadden and William Jonas meeting at a young age in Newcastle and making the move to London eventually.

Clapton Orient is the team they join – McFadden at first, with his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth also coming down to the capital, and Jonas soon follows suit with his own wife Mary Jane.

It is during this part we learn so much about their life off the pitch with McFadden reluctant to have a family in a hurry and Jonas eager for his lonely wife to meet other wives in the area.

Eventually Mary Jane does and the bond she forms with Elizabeth McFadden turns out to be pivotal.

We witness the bravery of the Orient players and staff when 41 members sign up to fight for King and Country in a moment where they really did take the lead.

After the O’s, others follow, and it is during the dark scenes of the Battle of the Somme when we see this is much more than a story about the friendship of McFadden and Jonas, who both died at war.

It is about George Scott’s fierce bravery before his death and the touching bond he had with Nolan ‘Peggy’ Evans, the leadership of captain Fred ‘Spider’ Parker who despite the bad news, never fails to write home to Orient manager Billy Holmes.

This play is to see how the war affected jovial characters like Jimmy Hugall, Hebert ‘Jumbo’ Reason and Holmes and the damaging impact it had on women at home, who should not be forgotten.

Holmes actually passed away not long after the war ended in a reminder that the battle is never truly over for those involved.

It was one of many times during the second half of the play where I got a lump in my throat and my eyes started to water.

My wife Amy didn’t manage to hold back her tears, but was one of several to let it all out during the particularly dark closing scenes.

Jonas never got to see his child and McFadden never got the chance to have kids, after he realised at war he wanted a family with Elizabeth more than anything else.

The image of the Clapton Orient heroes standing over their wives as spirits was a stroke of genius and touching end.

Michael Head has written a wonderful play, Adam Morley has directed it fantastically and of course Peter Kitchen and Stephen Jenkins deserve huge credit for helping bring it to life.

James Phelps (McFadden) and Michael Greco (Holmes) are both superb, I guess as you would expect, but Steven Bush (Jonas) is a real star too and one to watch in the future.

All of the cast deserve credit, though, for bringing these people back to life in such a poignant way.

Once an O always an O is said a lot. Even if you are not an O, you simply have to watch this play.

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