I’m not a great fan of cricket and so the name Colin Milburn meant nothing to me. And yet in his day he was considered one of the most exciting sportsmen of his generation until everything was brought to a sudden halt in 1969 after a road accident ended his career. Milburn lost one eye and the other was severely damaged – game over. From these bare bones writer Dougie Blaxland has created an interesting one man play that sets out to find the man behind the myth.
Milburn was not a conventional figure. He hailed from County Durham the son of a locally famous cricketer who, as a child, devoted all his time to a bat and a ball despite his mother’s protestations that his education should come first. He was what would be called today a party animal enjoying nothing more than the company of his mates washed down with copious amounts of alcohol – he even had a drink named after him (a Milburn is a gin and coke, since you ask). Fitness seemed to be of secondary consideration, indeed he was noted for his extremely large and well padded frame and was nicknamed Ollie after Oliver Hardy. And yet he rose rapidly through the ranks of the cricketing world to be one of its shining stars. We don’t actually learn much about the accident itself other than that there was one, but the rumour is that it was alcohol fuelled. What we are shown is Milburn smiling through the pain still joking about everything and apparently determined to keep on keeping on. Post the accident he tried his hand at commentary but found that good eyesight was needed for that too and so he gradually faded from the public view. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect is that to the world he maintained his jolly, wisecracking, fast living lifestyle even as he was crumbling inside – he would, in all respects, have made a good Falstaff.
Dan Gaisford does a superb job in bringing Milburn to life. He certainly doesn’t have the physical presence of the original but gives us the true essence of the man. Director Shane Morgan declares ““I wanted to capture Colin’s personality rather than it being a tribute act. That wouldn’t have done justice to the script.” As the time scales in the play move backwards and forwards, we see Milburn as the boy playing out until darkness descends, the pub going reveller, the committed cricketer and occasionally we get glimpses of the real man behind the mask. This is particularly true of the sections where he performs as “Jolly Ollie” Milburn’s cabaret turn persona – even as he tells the jokes (and there are one or two good ones) we can see the internal pain that Milburn is in. Along the way Gaisford also plays dozens of other characters who touched on Milburn’s existence and does a thoroughly convincing job at bringing them all to life – none more so than his mother, perpetually cleaning and perpetually critical of her son’s life choices.
The play is very simply presented with only essential props – the cricketing shots themselves are mimed in slow mo action replay. I’m not sure where the video was recorded but the backdrop is a real cricket clubhouse which lends a nice air of authenticity. A quick bit of research reveals that the show did indeed tour around professional cricket clubs and was co-produced by the Professional Cricketers Association in a bid to raise awareness among current players of the importance of planning for life after cricket – something which Milburn clearly never did and had never been encouraged to do. This video is not particularly high profile, but it is worth seeking out for its unusual story and Gaisford’s excellent performance. It also perhaps sheds a light on how sports people may (or may not) have been coping with the loss of their raison d’etre over the last few months.
When The Eye Has Gone can be accessed via You Tube. Click here
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