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Review: Thought-provoking play about one of football's black pioneers comes to Norwich

PUBLISHED: 08:20 30 October 2019 | UPDATED: 08:20 30 October 2019

Laurie Cunningham, Leyton Orient FC Photo: PA

Laurie Cunningham, Leyton Orient FC Photo: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

A compelling, thought-provoking and fast-paced play telling the story of one of football's black pioneers came to Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre on Tuesday night.

Laurie Cunningham, the 23-year-old West Bromwich Albion and England footballer, in his new team strip after signing for the Spanish club Real Madrid in a £950,000 deal, making the Jamacian-born striker British football's costliest export. Photo: PA IMAGESLaurie Cunningham, the 23-year-old West Bromwich Albion and England footballer, in his new team strip after signing for the Spanish club Real Madrid in a £950,000 deal, making the Jamacian-born striker British football's costliest export. Photo: PA IMAGES

Getting The Third Degree, by Dougie Blaxland, is billed as a celebration of the life of Laurie Cunningham, but was equally a story about the struggles facing many black professionals as they try to make their way in the game.

During the 1970s, winger Cunningham was one of the most dazzling footballers around and the drama portrays his meteoric rise to stardom and how he and his fellow black players at West Bromwich Albion - Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis - triumphed over the racial abuse and physical threats often orchestrated by The National Front.

Over just short of an hour the three-strong cast whizz through almost 100 years of football history, brilliantly swapping roles and characters in the same slick, smooth way that Cunningham was famed for on the pitch.

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One moment we're watching Cunningham and his team-mates score success on the pitch, the next we're in one of London's swanky clubs enjoying his legendary dance and then we're transported to a back room pub where the rapidly out-dates views of certain people are being explored.

You cannot afford to take your eyes off the stage and actors Emile Clarke, Sabrina Laurison and Zara Gabbidon deserve great praise for their versatile performances.

It's a highly enjoyable, and very apt given football's recent racism problems, play. My only slight criticisms being that it could have added 15 minutes or so by exploring more about the footballer's mental state during the ordeals he faced and I would have actually liked there to have been some footage of him in action incorporated into it.

The ending also comes too quickly - but then so too did Cunningham's life (he died in a car crash in 1989 aged just 33) so perhaps that was a statement in itself by the director.

Unfortunately this was a one-off show in Norwich, but if you can get to one of the others in this tour I'd highly recommend it.

For more information about the play, commissioned by Kick it Out to coincide with Black History Month UK, log onto kickitout.org

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