The Review Hub

Long Lane Theatre Company’s The Giant Killers is a David and Goliath tale from the birth of ‘the beautiful game’. A true story of how football was taken from a rich man’s pastime to the game of the people.

 

The mill workers that make up Darwen F.C. are as talented as they are passionate about football, but they are working men, playing a game invented by and for the upper classes. Largely forgotten by the history books, these underdogs fight their way to become the first working class men to compete in the FA Cup, but there are many injustices along the way as the men fight against social prejudice and down-right dirty tricks.

 

It’s clear from the opening moments that this is a work of quality, both in terms of writing and acting, and it’s clear that this play was originally written as a screenplay, it is easy to envision it on either the big or small screen. What is certain, is that it deserves a long life beyond the Fringe. What makes it stand apart is that there is depth to the storyline, this isn’t just a tale of the poor working man, there’s a story here of community and family that underpins the whole thing. There’s also a wonderfully three-dimensional female lead, foul-mouthed, spirited, independent and the match of any of the men.

 

Everybody loves an underdog, but that’s not the only reason to love this. The four-strong cast is impeccable and the writing and delivery builds excitement, creates pathos and enthrals from start to finish.

 

A real belter – and not just for footie fans.

 

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British Theatre Guide

Large gatherings of working people who aren’t working or praying could always be a source of alarm for the rich. It’s a theme that runs through Eve Pearson-Wright and Neil Andrew’s exciting dramatisation of an important episode in English football history.

It centres on the Lancashire town of Darwen where, in the mid-nineteenth century, men and women who worked in the mills would play football in large numbers against a huge fence even though the local authorities tried to ban it and the police would try to confiscate the ball.

 

We hear from some of these players, including the young girl Lucy Kirkham (Eve Pearson-Wright).

Years later, Lucy is the secretary of the local team and the drama explores how she and three other believable and likeable characters helped to create a team that challenged the national domination of the game by public schools.

 

They are an unlikely combination. Ashton is a mill owner who learned to love football at Harrow and Billy Walsh (Jimmy Riani-Carter) is the union organiser at Ashton’s mill. That causes friction, particularly when Ashton decides to cut the wages of the mill workers by 10%.

Robert “Bobby” Kirkham (Neil Andrew) is an out of work former mill worker who returns to the town after many years' absence.

We see the way the public schools resist even allowing Darwen to play them at football, claiming it might encourage workers to drink and bet.

 

There is even a bit of resistance from Billy who says playing in their system will just be used by them to make money.

When a match does take place, the different size of the players even make many on the Darwen side feel doomed.

Billy explains that the Old Etonians “looked taller, heavier from a lifetime of eating well”, in contrast with the smaller Darwen players who had spent “a lifetime hunched at machines.”

 

But in two matches, they equalise against the Old Etonians and then have to raise funds to pay for travel to a third match at the ground the Old Etonians want because they refuse to play in Darwen.

The stage is small but the company turn a minimal set into football grounds, houses, and railway trains.

 

This is a remarkable and entertaining show that you don’t even have to be interested in football to enjoy.

 

Keith Mckenna

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The British Theatre Guide

Large gatherings of working people who aren’t working or praying could always be a source of alarm for the rich. It’s a theme that runs through Eve Pearson-Wright and Neil Andrew’s exciting dramatisation of an important episode in English football history.

It centres on the Lancashire town of Darwen where, in the mid-nineteenth century, men and women who worked in the mills would play football in large numbers against a huge fence even though the local authorities tried to ban it and the police would try to confiscate the ball.

 

We hear from some of these players, including the young girl Lucy Kirkham (Eve Pearson-Wright).

Years later, Lucy is the secretary of the local team and the drama explores how she and three other believable and likeable characters helped to create a team that challenged the national domination of the game by public schools.

 

They are an unlikely combination. Ashton is a mill owner who learned to love football at Harrow and Billy Walsh (Jimmy Riani-Carter) is the union organiser at Ashton’s mill. That causes friction, particularly when Ashton decides to cut the wages of the mill workers by 10%.

Robert “Bobby” Kirkham (Neil Andrew) is an out of work former mill worker who returns to the town after many years' absence.

We see the way the public schools resist even allowing Darwen to play them at football, claiming it might encourage workers to drink and bet.

One4review

Having had to run to the venue, and then discovering the show was on the top floor of the Rose Theatre, I sat down in the audience slightly out of sorts. Thankfully this crowd pleasing play was a real tonic and I quickly came absorbed in the lives of a group of Darwen locals who dared to challenge the accepted wisdom that Association Football was only for the landed gentry in the 1850s. With an enthusiastic mill owner’s son, an ambitious female club secretary and a mill worker who had developed association football skills in Glasgow, the town of Darwen took on ‘the toffs’ and competed for the FA Cup.

 

This play was not just about football as the team was a shining beacon of hope for the north of England when the mill towns struggled with civil unrest as mills closed and unemployment was always around the corner.


The revolving scenery on stage is a clever touch and keeps the action moving along briskly. You don’t have to like football to appreciate this play as the social history of the period is fascinating and the inequality felt at home is equally reflected on the pitch. Come prepared to climb a lot of stairs, but believe me it’s worth the effort.
 

Reviewed by Rona

 

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The Edinburgh Guide

Football is generally now regarded as a sport of the working class, but in its early days in the 19th century the opposite was true. Back then it was a game for the privileged chaps who attended public schools like Harrow and Eton; a game for gentlemen and the upper classes (and we all know these are not synonymous). What passed for football in the mill towns of Lancashire could be a chaos of 60 odd men roughly lobbing a ball around with just a fence as goal.

 

The Giant Killers is a wonderful dramatisation of the true story of a group of mill workers in Lancashire who were joined by two talented Glaswegians (things must have been different in Scotland!) so that Darwen could take on mighty The Old Etonians in a F.A. Cup tie in London’s Kennington Park. A real -life David and Goliath set up!

 

Opening with tableau like figures in a museum backed by industrial sounds, the unlikely combination of a political radical; a lippy, spirited young widow; a naïve pragmatist and the son of a millowner, all with the common love of football, burst in to life to the sound a steam train’s whistle.

 

The characters’ words are delivered mainly by direct narration in this tragi comedy that deals with socio political issues of the time while keeping its eye on the ball, as it were. The hub of the story is a game played by a team where the odds are strongly stacked against them. It is the ‘ruled vs rulers’ and the latter are not above bending Association Football rules to suit themselves.

The re-enactment of the games in the tiny space that is the stage is transporting, edge of the seat stuff even for someone who doesn’t know the offside rule! The brilliantly simple cuboid set designed by Justin Williams birls to a brick wall, a football crowd or the inside of a house like the twist of a Rubik’s cube.

 

The Giant Killers has a fantastic script with tremendous all round performances from the entire troupe. It is high quality theatre without a high budget.

 

Long Lane Theatre Company has made a Fringe début worthy of a Hampden roar!

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The List

Tear-jerking sporting underdog story

Football, and sport in general, has always been a medium for telling stories. Roaring support from the terraces, football fans across the country invoke the memory of heroes past to spur on the eleven players wearing their colours.

 

The Giant Killers recognises that despite becoming a multi-billion pound industry football is, at its heart, about community and identity. Set in the early years of association football, Giant Killersfollows a ragtag bunch of working class players from Darwen in Lancashire as they enter an embryonic FA Cup. Their opponents are affluent southerners, who treat the men from Darwen with contempt.

 

Each of the four cast members create the sense of a small group fighting hard for something larger than themselves. Eve Pearson Wright's performance as quick-witted and determined club secretary Lucy is a particular highlight.

 

This kind of David vs Goliath scenario will be familiar to audiences who have enjoyed films such as Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and Brassed Off over the years. However, The Giant Killers proves that, if told with a deftness of touch, there is still mileage in a tear-jerking underdog story.

 

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Three Weeks

I am not a fan of football, but for 75 minutes I was part of the crowd, feeling every triumph and tragedy with a true fan’s intensity. This play tells the story of the early days of association football, when the “beautiful game” was dominated by upper-class former private school boys, until that was challenged by a group of mill workers from the Lancashire town of Darwen.

 

The labour movement, social division and class tension all feature prominently, but it’s the human heart and soul of the story that takes centre stage: the everyday lives and loves of the real men and women of Darwen, who struggled against a system of wealth and privilege that was rigged against them.

 

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Contact Us

Long Lane Theatre Company 

6a Long lane

Ickenham

London

UB10 8TB

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