LET’S start with a confession.
As some Examiner readers may be aware, I’m not a theatre critic, I’m a rugby league writer.
But I reckon that made me a reasonable candidate to offer an informed opinion on Broken Time, the Bradford-born writer Mick Martin’s play about the formation of the Rugby Football League.
Whether it’s rugby league or a play, we’re there to witness a performance. We’re there to see who rises to the occasion, who captures the imagination and earns the highest accolades.
We’ve all come to see the winners and losers, although on this particular occasion there were no losers, just one big winner – Broken Time.
The phrase ‘broken time’ emerged in the early 1890s when a number of northern clubs in the Rugby Football Union felt it was only right to compensate their players for any money they lost by having to play a game rather than work.
It wasn’t a problem for the wealthy establishment, who supported the notion of an amateur game, but for the working man it became a major issue. For them, it was a simple choice between playing a game or putting food on the family’s table.
That’s why ‘broken time’ became such an issue.
But it was far more than just a sporting issue, it was a social issue, and in the early 1890s – when this play is set – it was a massive off-field battle.
It’s somewhat strange, therefore, that it’s taken until now for such a compelling story to make it onto the stage, because it’s such a fascinating tale to tell.
But it was well worth the wait.
Martin uses fictitious characters and a fictitious club (West Broughton) while sticking to the historical facts to encapsulate everything that was happening in the build-up to the formation of rugby league at the George Hotel in Huddersfield in August, 1895.
There is one real historical figure – the pantomime villain of the piece – in the Reverend Frank Marshall, the former headmaster of Almondbury Boys School who was known as the ‘scourge of professionalism’, because he was so central to the action .
He was played admirably by Andrew Price, who was one of the eight outstanding cast members.
Like everyone else in the production, he could act a variety of roles, sing and play a brass-band instrument exceptionally well.
There’s no question their polished performances were at the very heart of this success, which was incredibly well received by a well-attended and knowledgeable following, including a number in Huddersfield Giants shirts.
They, like the rest of us, were absorbed by the tale of Lewy Jenkins, a rising star of Welsh rugby who was lured to play in Yorkshire with the promise of a public house of his own and a wad of back-handed cash.
This may have appeared a dream move for Lewy at first, but as the bitter feud over broken-time payments came to its dramatic conclusion, the unfortunate Jenkins found himself a pawn in the ferocious battle of wills.
The tale was as gripping as real life rugby league, and even though it’s bound to have major appeal for followers of the 13-a-side code, its appeal should be far greater.
This is a tale for the masses, not that the Reverend Marshall would ever have approved of that, of course!
Finally, usual habits do die hard. So here, as a summary of the events that took place on the Lawrence Batley stage, is a brief overview of the performance (match), RL coverage-style.