World premiere  of  The Nap at the Crucible, Sheffield

World premiere of The Nap at the Crucible, Sheffield

So Richard Wilson’s directing a Snooker World Championship at the Crucible this year, then, is he? What? You don’t believe it? Well, he is.

Since 1977, for millions worldwide, the Crucible Theatre has been synonymous with snooker. For countless others, the Crucible means performances on one of the best theatrical stages anywhere. In a stroke of genius, Mr Wilson, the Crucible’s Associate Director for some years, suggested combining the snooker with theatrical drama. Now Richard Bean (writer of One Man, Two Guv’nors) has obliged – and he’s played it perfect. While the twisting story of match-fixing gangsters, a sting, a romance, a surreal dream scene and a nail-biting snooker tournament is strong and deep enough to build up intrigue, suspense and emotional tension, the comedy is superb. Warm, witty and raw, it elicits hoots, howls and groans of laughter throughout.

 Jack O'Connell as Dylan Spokes in The Nap. Sheffield Theatres.  Credit Mark DouetA full-size, green baize snooker table sits centre stage atop the red carpet, a veritable Wembley with holes. Now cue the players. Once he gets going, Jack O’Connell engages beautifully as main man Dylan Spokes, vegetarian snooker player and all round good, decent bloke who progresses from shabby local snooker club to the top echelons of the game (well 107th, anyway) but gets caught up in a web of corruption and deception on the way. Strong, polished, engaging, big Mark Addey, an experienced hand at comic timing and delivery, is his ex-con dad Bobby.

Though the language can be pretty crude at times, it’s all in the interests of great comedy. In fact, the bulk of the comedy comes from fast-paced quips and sparkling wordplay. Bobby’s quip about the effect time and ageing have on memory isn’t just witty and clever, it’s accurate too – tempus fuxit! Endless strings of side-splitting, word-based hilarity come, too, from the lavish lips of gangster Waxy Chuff, a stunningly clad, transgender Mrs Malaprop with robotic Terminator arm. Louise Gold’s deep-toned delivery bowls us over every time. Wonderful! In spite of her peanut analogy, tough nut Waxy sets to work on bullying child effigy, Dylan, into tanking (throwing) a frame to bring the gangsters cash beyond their wettest dreams. Still more belly-laughs derive from the elaborate and hilarious windings, ramblings and stumblings a la Dinner Ladies, as characters agonise to remember the names of celebrities and movies.

Seven other cast members add further layers of sparkle and joy to the production. Ralf Little, another pro of comedy and comic timing appears as Dylan’s slippery manager Tony, then does a grand job of taking off snooker compere and master of ridiculous rhyme, Rob Walker, before taking on a warmly funny commentary. The dry, deadpan delivery of Youssef Kerkour as Policeman Habib provides fine contrast, while Esther Coles is nicely brash as Dylan’s Yorkshire mum and Irishman Dermot Crowley is very deliberately Irish. Like Jack O’Connell, Rochella Sandall brings emotional depth and feeling to the more serious side of the story as Eleanor (Rosa) Sergeant. John Astley, professional snooker player and coach to the cast, takes on the roles of two players who play against Dylan (one being John ‘the Jam-Jar’ Carr!), ensuring the authentic onstage snooker – that culminates in an exciting 1985 Taylor-Davies entertainment – is as riveting as the tale itself.

Richard Wilson, who, until now, has been directing plays only in the smaller Crucible Studio, must be thrilled and relieved that his transfer to the main theatre has gone so splendidly. Great use is made of the thrust-stage space as the big, green table slides back and a bed rises magically from beneath the floor, turning snooker venue into hotel room (Dennis Taylor’s at that!) No, no one will be dozing off during The Nap. It’s a play full of sparkle, fun and intrigue and, of course, it’s got a whole lot of balls. Go on! Get in!

Eileen Caiger Gray

The Nap will run at the Crucible until March 26th