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Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson

By • West End
WOS Rating:
Chris England and Arthur Smith's West End hit An Evening with Gary Lineker took a wryly comic look at a group of football fans watching England lose on penalties to Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.

Now England (the author, that is) has written an entertaining, if lightweight, comedy about members of a rugby club watching TV coverage of the 1993 World Cup Final between England and Australia, which was famously won by Jonny Wilkinson scoring a drop-goal in the last few minutes of extra-time.

This somewhat belated tribute to that legendary moment seems all the more nostalgic now as hero Wilkinson hasn't played for England since then, due to constant injury, and the team itself has gone rapidly downhill. While not as funny as An Evening with Gary Lineker, or as socially observant as John Godber's sports comedies, Breakfast with Jonny Wilkinson pokes gentle fun at followers of competitive sport, as well as playing on the traditional rivalries between men and women, and between Brits and Aussies.

The contest on the rugby field Down Under is matched by conflict amongst the members in Anthony Lamble's lovingly re-created, grubby rugby club bar. Current chairman Dave is determined to resist the approaches of a property developer targeting the club, but he's opposed in the forthcoming election by team coach Matt, an Aussie, arrogantly confident of success both on and off the field, for whom foul play is a necessary part of winning.

Also in attendance are the respective captains of the women's and men's first XV teams, the feisty Nina and chauvinistic Nigel (who complains about his wife continually phoning him up as she's going into labour), and rising young star Jake (nicknamed Wilko), who has a superstition that Jonny Wilkinson will only score if he himself succeeds in kicking the goals first outside on the pitch. Finally, there are two outsiders, Matt's seductive gym boss Lena and Exley, a journalist who's supposed to be reporting on the local atmosphere but who, it turns out, has ulterior motives.

The story may be flimsy and the characters stereotypical, but director Jonathan Lewis manages to get 110 percent effort out of his cast so that the show has plenty of exuberance for its 80 minutes-plus. Norman Pace gives the stressed-out Dave a sympathetic presence, while Michael Beckley relishes his role as the over-competitive, lager-swilling Matt. Tony Bell is amusingly laddish as the self-centred and immature Nigel, with Beth Cordingly's caustic Nina more than a match for him. Chris England himself plays the patronising Exley, who can't understand all the fuss over a ball with pointy ends.

- Neil Dowden


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