First performed at Manchester’s 24:7 theatre festival back in 2009, Simon Carter’s play Phys Ed is back on the road following an acclaimed run at Edinburgh this summer.
Performed by Nicholas Osmond (best known as Leon in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers), this is a solo show charting P.E. teacher Neville Trellis in his attempt to lead his school’s rugby team to victory. Of course, the road to glory is not smooth as our hero must contend with foes including sibling rivalry, a childhood bully and bed-wetting.
Presented by Lindsey Bowden in association with Opposite Leg, the premise of the play is simple and familiar: one likeable chap’s triumph over adversity. The staging and design are basic, relying almost entirely on Osmond’s performance to create the world of the piece, which he does commendably.
Well cast as the amiable toff Trellis, Osmond is a convincing ex-public school boy. Balancing the right amount of buffoonery, bravado and vulnerability, the performer avoids turning Trellis into a two dimensional stereotype despite a few too many ‘chuffing’ ‘pigging’ references to the ‘rugger’ in the script.
Though the writing is entertaining and tells a cohesive, engaging story through only one character, one can’t help feeling that Carter has played it safe with Phys Ed. There are no risks taken or surprises within the narrative or themes of the piece. That is not to say that there is nothing to care about here. In the climactic description of the all-important rugby match, the audience are in the palm of Osmond’s hand eagerly leaning forward in their seats to hear the fate of the team, the tension more suggestive of battle field than playing field.
Phys Ed is a likeable, feel good show that just lacks a bit of bite. Go and see it, but leave your gum shield at home.