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REVIEW - TESTMATCH | BOLTON OCTAGON THEATRE | 24/05/2024


Testmatch production photo

all about theatre four star review

Testmatch is written by Kate Attwell, Atwell is an emerging playwright known for her innovative and thought-provoking works that often tackle complex social issues. Her work is characterised by its sharp wit, incisive social commentary, and the ability to weave together multiple themes and narratives into a cohesive story. "Testmatch" is one of her notable plays, showcasing her unique voice and perspective. Premiering in 2019 at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, "Testmatch" makes its British debut this year in a collaboration between The Orange Tree Theatre, ETT, and Octagon Theatre Bolton. Under the direction of Diane Page this play juxtaposes a modern-day women's cricket match at the World Cup in England against the backdrop of 18th-century Calcutta, highlighting the enduring impacts of colonialism and the shifting dynamics of power and identity.


Testmatch production photo

The opening act takes place at the Women's Cricket World Cup in contemporary England. The scene begins with the players rushing into the locker room, soaked through, as their match is postponed due to the quintessential British weather. While waiting to hear whether the game will resume or be called off, a dialogue ensues between three members of the England squad and three from the Indian contingent. It's within this interlude that underlying tensions surface, revealing their aspirations, cultural differences, and personal hurdles.

In the second act, the setting transitions to 18th-century Calcutta, where two British colonial administrators from The East India Company, referred to as One and Two, are practicing cricket with One's housekeeper, Abhi. As they await the Sultan of Bangalore's trade delegation, they review and finalize the cricket rules to ensure uniform gameplay. However, a dilemma arises: a women's cricket team in England has requested formal recognition for inventing the overarm bowling technique, necessitated by balls getting caught in their skirts. The administrators' solution is to bribe the women to keep the origin of the technique secret. Meanwhile, their conversation reveals that they have secured substantial bonuses for themselves and arranged a bailout to conceal their mismanagement, which has led to nationwide famine.


The two acts are carried out in distinctly different styles, each serving a unique purpose in conveying the play's overarching themes. The first act unfolds with a naturalistic and poignant freedom, capturing the candid and raw conversations between the members of the Indian and English women's cricket teams. The naturalistic dialogue and performances allow the audience to engage intimately with the characters' inner lives and the subtle yet pervasive impact of historical contexts on their identities. In stark contrast, the second act adopts a stylized, satirical tone, utilizing farce to critique the absurdities and injustices of the colonial era.


Diane Page's direction ensures that the transition between the two acts is seamless yet impactful, allowing the audience to fully appreciate the thematic resonance between the past and present. The deliberate contrast in styles not only highlights the enduring legacy of colonialism but also challenges the audience to reflect on how these historical dynamics continue to shape contemporary issues in sports and society at large.


Testmatch production photo

Cat Fuller's set design features a white circular platform with visible cracks, surrounded by charcoal chippings. I believe the cracks on the platform symbolise the fragile and contentious nature of the women's shared history and the underlying tensions between them. As the play transitions to the second act, the set evolves subtly but significantly; a small hole appears in the centre of the stage, as if one of the cracks has deepened and opened up, symbolizing the historical wounds of colonialism becoming exposed. This minimalist approach to set design facilitates seamless transitions between past and present.

Fuller's costume design also plays a crucial role in distinguishing the two eras. The vibrant and colourful team kits—England in red and India in blue—highlight the contemporary setting, while the detailed 18th-century costumes provide a striking visual contrast, effectively transporting the audience to colonial Calcutta. Rajiv Pattani's lighting design masterfully transitions from the artificial glow of the locker room to the blazing sun of colonial India, enhancing the play's temporal shifts. Simon Slater's sound design, featuring intense downpours, adds an auditory layer of realism that heightens the atmospheric tension, making the audience feel immersed in both the modern and historical settings


Testmatch production photo

Aarushi Riya Ganju delivers an exceptional performance; in the first act, she embodies India 1, the Captain of the Indian team, who secretly hopes for continued gameplay and a victorious end to her career before retirement—a fact not yet revealed to her teammates. Ganju presents a commanding blend of strength and vulnerability, her ability to transition from humour to serious moments creates a character that is both dynamic and relatable. In the second act, as the Messenger, Ganju's performance is utterly captivating. She delivers her monologue with heartfelt sincerity, striking a deep chord with the audience and showcasing her ability to infuse her words with significant emotional depth.


Aiyana Bartlett portrays India 2 in the first act and Daanya in the second. India 2 is a character who conceals her lesbian identity from the other team, fearing they might disclose it to the media. She worries such exposure could harm her family and jeopardise her cricket career. Bartlett gave a strong performance as India 2 and was able to portray her character's vulnerability well. Transitioning to the role of Daanya in the second act, Bartlett showcases her versatility as an actor. Daanya is a villager with a bold and audacious spirit, who sneaks onto the grounds of the British administrators' estate with a daring request to train with their cricket team. Bartlett imbues Daanya with a blend of determination and resourcefulness, her character leveraging a personal connection to one of the administrators to press her case. As Daanya, Bartlett exudes confidence and tenacity, challenging the colonial status quo with her request and demonstrating the capability and passion that she brings to the sport of cricket.


Tanya Katyal brings a delightful energy to the role of India 3, infusing her character with optimism and humour. Her facial expressions and physical comedy add a joyous element to the first act, making her performance particularly engaging. Transitioning to the role of Abhi in the second act, Katyal continues to impress with her physical theatre skills. She balances humour with drama in her interactions with the colonial administrators, creating scenes that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. Katyal’s ability to switch from comedic to serious tones towards the play’s end highlights her range as an actor.


Bea Svistunenko captures the essence of England 1 (the captain) with a fierce determination that reveals the character's complex motivations. Her portrayal is both intimidating and believable, particularly when her character grapples with maintaining composure after intense outbursts. In the second act, Svistunenko’s transformation into One is marked by impeccable comedic timing Her frivolous demeanour adds a layer of satire to the narrative, eliciting laughter and reflection from the audience.


Mia Turner brings a nuanced mix of comedic timing and emotional depth to the role of England 2. Her character’s humorous comparisons between dating cricket players and rugby players provide much-needed comic relief, punctuating the tense atmosphere with light-hearted banter, while her underlying heartache adds depth. Turner’s delivery is sharp and witty, eliciting genuine laughs from the audience. In the second act, Turner’s versatility shines through in her portrayal of Memsahib, the wife of Administrator One. This character appears lost in her own world, likely due to opium use and societal neglect. Turner’s depiction of Memsahib is a delicate balance of humour and tragedy. She captures the character’s detachment and eccentricity with a whimsical touch, making her scenes both amusing and poignant.


Haylie Jones delivers a compelling performance as England 3 as she embodies the reluctant peacemaker with realistic frustration and unpredictability, making her character’s actions engaging and unpredictable. In the second act, her portrayal of Two is marked by an exaggerated self-importance that captures the absurdity of colonial arrogance.


Testmatch production photo


Overall, "Testmatch" is a thought-provoking and engaging production that seamlessly blends humour with profound insights. This theatrical experience not only entertains but also encourages reflection on both historical and contemporary issues. The production at Bolton Octagon Theatre, with its intimate setting, enhances the emotional and intellectual impact of the play, making it a standout piece of contemporary theatre. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and highly recommend it to anyone seeking a powerful and evocative theatrical experience.


Testmatch is on at Bolton Octagon Theatre until Saturday 1st June 2024, you can purchase tickets by clicking on the button below.





Photo Credit - Helen Murray


*Our tickets for this show were kindly gifted in exchange for an honest review




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