Game for a laugh

When director Richard Wilson approached Richard Bean about collaborating on a play about snooker to be performed at the Crucible before the start of the annual world championships at the theatre, the playwright initially wasn't keen on the idea.

Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:31 am
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:36 am
Playright Richard Bean in rehearsals for The Nap at the Crucible

“I said, it’s a brilliant marketing idea, how are we going to make the play work?,” he recounts. “Once you put sport into any medium – film, television, theatre – the sport suffers. We’ve seen that with football and all kinds of things and I wanted to avoid that situation.”

But he came round in the end and the result is The Nap, a comedy thriller starring Jack O’Connell, Mark Addy and Ralf Little and directed by Richard Wilson.

“It took a while until I came up with the solution of a match-fixing scenario which would allow us to have a professional snooker player in the cast, which we have in John Astley who is totally brilliant, as the opponent to our main protagonist, Dylan, played by Jack O’Connell.

“So we have a match between them in the play where Jack gets his ass whipped by a snooker professional, unsurprisingly. But the audience see proper snooker being played. It’s a frame that is being thrown by Dylan. That doesn’t make it that much easier but the theory is when we see him miss a pot or play a bad shot, the audience think, oh that’s to throw the game.”

Richard Bean, who is familiar with the Crucible stage, having had an early play, Mr England, performed here in 2000, offers a somewhat skewed reason for liking snooker.

He says: “To use a strange analogy, it seems a little bit like Brighton.

“Snooker is always helping the police with their inquiries. It’s always got a whiff of corruption, a whiff of sleaze. Snooker rooms are dark, it’s the night-time even if it’s the afternoon so that’s why you often see snooker or pool in gangster films because it’s the environment, it’s the culture, it’s the art of being a bad man.”

The Nap is thus a comedy thriller. Besides there is no such thing in the theatre as a straightforward comedy apart from pure farce, according to the man who created a prime example in the multi-award-winning One Man, Two Guvnors.

“Farce is comedy and nothing else, it’s only reason for existence is to make you laugh,” he continues.

“This isn’t, it has other reasons for existence which is the integrity of sport which is under threat right across the board. Football, tennis – tennis! – athletics, who could believe these sports are bent? Sport is a social construct. If we destroy it through greed and corruption we destroy one of the richest things there is in human existence.

“Pinned up on the wall of the rehearsal room is Match Fixing in Roman Wrestling, so it’s as old as the hills – or as old as Lulu as a line in the play says. I’m sure Lulu will be chuffed about that,” he adds sardonically.

The Nap is at the Crucible from tonight (March 10) to April 2.