NOTE: The following review dates from December 2004 and this production's original run at the Battersea Arts Centre. For current cast and venue information, see performance listings.
The World Cup Final 1966 is the third show written by Carl Heap and Tom Morris which attempts to stage the seemingly unstageable. After the classical epics Ben Hur and Jason and the Argonauts, the pair have turned their attention to more recent sporting legend, England’s World Cup win in 1966 – a true tale of modern-day heroes.
Fitting a big story into a small space, Heap and Morris have again used all of their collective imagination and ingenuity to evoke the glorious deeds of that annus mirabilis. The result is an entertaining and often witty display of physical theatre but one that, unfortunately, lacks any real dramatic tension and goes on far beyond extra time.
After nearly “40 years of hurt”, the England football team's success has taken on almost mythic proportions. While this show offers an affectionate tribute to Alf Ramsey's triumphant squad, it fails to raise its game and tap into any feelings of inspiration. The opening scene, in a church where the infant Geoff Hurst is about to be baptised, suggests in a tongue-in-cheek way that football is a religion to many. But there’s far more of the ridiculous than the sublime in the following two-and-a-half hours.
Heap's admirably fluid direction provides plenty of first-time passes and off-the-ball movement, with scenes seguing nicely into each other on the football-pitch-shaped stage. Some amusing scenes show Alf Ramsey's initial success as manager of championship-winning Ipswich Town and his subsequent appointment as England boss by the FA blazer brigade, which prompted him to take elocution lessons. The World Cup games themselves are beautifully choreographed, including slow motion and `videotape rewinding'.
However, several scenes could be cut without any narrative loss - the players’ day-off visit to Pinewood Studios, for example - which would actually make the drama more focused as it builds up to the final with West Germany. Getting the audience involved wherever possible, such as demonstrating different football formations, is a great idea, though the authors try to cram in so much business they sometimes take their eye off the, ahem, ball.
While very much a team effort, there are some notable individual turns from the cast: Jason Barnett as the confidence-inspiring Alf Ramsey; Edward Woodall as a very funny, blunt-speaking Geordie Jack Charlton; Will Adamsdale as the super-cool Bobby Moore; and Jason Thorpe as matinee idol Jimmy Greaves, who’s supplanted by a young hat-trick hero.