This true David and Goliath story - of how an amateur Irish rugby team beat one of the world's best rugby teams, the New Zealand All Blacks, in a match on 31 October 1978 - has now become the stuff of another David and Goliath story.
The Yew Tree Theatre Company, based in County Mayo in northwest Ireland, first staged Alone it Stands at Waterford Rugby Club, and subsequently toured it to other rugby clubs, parish halls, and even the high security wing of Portlaoise prison. Now - after a season on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000 - it has arrived at the West End's Duchess Theatre.
Amiable and entertaining though it certainly is, John Breen's play - which the author also directs - does not have quite the resonance or universal appeal of its fellow Irish sleeper hit, Stones in His Pocket. While the latter similarly progressed via a run on the Edinburgh Fringe to London's Tricycle and subsequently a West End run unbroken to this day, Alone it Stands is only a filler for the Duchess until a new play arrives there in mid-February.
With no great claims made for it, it's an engaging and energetic piece, beautifully bringing a landmark day in Irish rugby to theatrical life with just six resourceful actors. Since no television cameras recorded the actual event, its legacy has been passed down via the oral tradition; and this theatricalisation provides another means of spreading that story.
It not only takes you into the scrum - and through a match that culminated in a 12:0 victory for the local team - but spins its drama into a slightly overlong two hours beyond it. In the process, Breen's piece covers some of the off-pitch events, too, such as the birth of twins to a fan's wife while he's watching the match on the terraces.
While anyone who saw John Godber's Olivier-award winning 1980s rugby comedy Up 'n' Under will inevitably experience a sense of deja vu watching this, it's still refreshing to see such an unassumingly populist and vibrant piece of often highly physical community theatre staking its claim to the West End.
- Mark Shenton