Adam Scott, Independent
The actor, writer and football fan Colin Welland missed the 1966 World Cup final because he was on stage in a matinee at the Royal Court. Welland would do well to get down to the Battersea Arts Centre, where the latest in that bold theatre's series of Christmas shows elevates the famous match to the level of the epic, in the mode of earlier BAC offerings Ben-Hur and Jason and the Argonauts.
A note in the programme confirms that Carl Heap and Tom Morris wrote the piece with non-supporters uppermost in mind. So, when the choreographer Darren Royston stages football sequences in slow motion, a vivid and often hilarious theatricality is achieved that would beguile even the most hardened football atheist.
But fundamentalist football fans get a funny and affectionate homage to the iconic freeze-frame footage from Goal!, the official film of the 1966 World Cup, with its patrician voice-over scripted by Brian Glanville and percussive jazz score.
This is total football and total theatre, which have come together in Scottish community theatre - although folk theatre would be better - for some years. Such shows as The Lions of Lisbon (about Celtic winning the European Cup, and starring Gary Lewis, later Billy Elliot's dad) at the Pavilion have brought many a punter from plastic seat to plush. Yet all the English stage has had is the execrable Elton-Lloyd Webber musical The Beautiful Game.
This great show remedies that. Physical theatre, mime and even medieval mystery play meet with astonishing theatrical ingenuity and often just rank daftness (Bobby Moore is described in a country pastiche as being "Barking-born/ With hair as yella as the Dagenham corn"). Others will imitate. But, like the 1966 World Cup winners for Beckham and co, this is the show they'll be judged against.
The ensemble playing is superb. Niall Ashdown invests Nobby Stiles with shades of Vic Reeves. Edward Woodall could transfer his Jack Charlton to a production of Cymbeline and be the funniest Cloten ever.
Jason Barnett's Alf Ramsey, a Dagenham Churchill with cut-glass vowels, rounds up his side one by one, like Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven. And, speak of the devil, there's Yul himself (Derek Elroy), one of a myriad of cameos; each of the 12-strong cast a Russian doll (and one of them a Russian linesman) with a seemingly never-ending parade of characters inside them.
Shoot me, but, as a Scot, I reserve the right to maintain that Geoff Hurst's second goal has yet to cross the line. But when the cast of this joyful show, in the best panto tradition, turned to the audience for adjudication on that very matter, I shouted, "Oh yes it did," with the best of them. Even Denis Law, the legendary Scottish footballer, would love this show. And he famously elected to play golf on the day rather than watch the match, in case England won.
Benedict Nightingale, The Times
Last Christmas the Battersea Arts Centre staged a marvellously inventive piece about Jason and his Argonauts, and the Christmas before a fine rough-theatre version of Ben Hur. Such was those plays' success that BAC is now tackling a subject some of us would regard as twice as heroic and three times more improbable: England's victory in the World Cup 38 years ago.
I remember the final only as a black-and-white blur on the telly that ended with Kenneth Wolstenholme's triumphant cry as people poured on to the pitch and Geoff Hurst scored the clinching goal: 'They think it's all over, it is now.' But as the football nerd I've since become I was happy to join in choruses of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' and grateful to Carl Heap and Tom Morris for recreating that match and putting it in context.
Altogether, this is an immensely good-humoured, informative and enjoyable show.
The overall tone is a blend of the celebratory and the comic. Well, how could it be other than funny when, near the start, we're whisked off to the Charltons' two-up-two-down in Geordieland, there to see the schoolboys Jack and Bobby get their ears clipped by their football-mad Mum as they moan about England's infamous defeat by the US' How other than hilarious when Edward Woodall's Jack, his bottom stuck out to resemble not just a goose but a goosed goose, is wrangling with Niall Ashdown's toothy Nobby Stiles, or Roy Weskin's dopey Bob is cantering through midfield'
I'm not sure that Heap, who also directs, has fully worked out how to stage a complex match. Maybe he should take a look at John Godber's brilliant rugby league play Up 'n' Under. But with the help of a ball, a mop on the end of a pole, and 11 rushing performers in red (the opposing Germans wore white that day) he achieves enough ' and certainly holds our attention when he evokes the evolution of the beautiful game, the rise of Alf Ramsey, and the killer-match against those 'animals', the 1966 Argentinians, that preceded an implausibly clean semi against Portugal.
Jason Barnett has fun with Ramsey's attempts to posh up his accent, yet still leaves us admiring his canny tactics and Mourinho-like ability to bond and motivate a mix of men into a team. Jason Thorpe's Jimmy Greaves, the stellar forward devastated by being dropped for the final, is another success, as is the bustling, fizzing Alan Ball of Ian Summers, not the leanest or butchest of actors. And somehow their comic antics don't prevent Bobby Moore's raising of the trophy seeming a bit special. The audience burst into patriotic applause and song ' and so did I.
Dan Cairns, Sunday Times
Following Ben-Hur and Jason and the Argonauts, BAC completes the Christmas-show hat trick with this wonderfully imaginative (if overlong) production. It portrays the development of team formations and the game's rules, the class snobbery that led Alf Ramsey to take elocution lessons, and the dressing-room tensions bred by a 1966 squad as disparate as the Charltons, Greaves and Stiles, with charm, deftness, pathos and wit. Its success may depend in part on our abiding obsession with England’s victory 38 years ago. But the uniformly excellent cast celebrate the sport’s mix of absurdity and passion with such affection, using song, dance and mime, and the audience, some footie-fluent, some not, respond with such gusto, you would have to be a particularly humourless sourpuss not to love it.
Oliver Cairns, 7, says: I was wearing my football trainers, which were exactly the same as the actors had on. They asked me to come onto the stage and be a footballer; I was No10. I thought the play was hilarious. I loved it when the Uruguayan team did their funny dance.
Isobel Cairns, 12, says: The play encouraged audience interaction. There were humorous little quips to hold your attention, but it could have been cut considerably. But you don’t need to be a football fanatic to enjoy this charming re-creation of England’s 1966 victory.