Theatre Review: NEVER LOST AT HOME – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME.

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME. Photo Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Inspired by real fan stories, NEVER LOST AT HOME is a musical celebration of family, community and football

4 out of 5 stars

It’s been 40 years since Ipswich Town Football Club lifted the iconic UEFA cup, but for many fans, it still feels like yesterday, as Peter Rowe’s latest production NEVER LOST AT HOME demonstrates.

Inspired by fans’ real stories of the 1980-81 football season, NEVER LOST AT HOME follows the fictional Coombes family as they travel across Europe to watch their beloved football team.

Negotiating their way through Greek Riots, Polish revolutions, Czech blizzards and French mud, the Super Blues fans fight their way to Amsterdam, just in time to witness Bobby Robson’s small yet skilful team claim the UEFA cup, the first European trophy in the club’s history.

As the audience enters the auditorium dressed in football shirts and scarves, it’s clear that football is more than just a game for this town.

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME. Photo Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Rowes’ fast-paced and witty script captures the emotional highs and lows of the game, but also the togetherness and celebration of the sport, as stories, memories and family folklore combine to recreate the gathered experience of match day.

At first glance, Amy Jane Cook’s simple multiple-level set doesn’t look like much but is incredibly effective, allowing the action to move swiftly from the family’s front room to the football terraces of Europe.

Rowe employs some innovative staging here, juxtaposing pre-recorded re-enactments of iconic matches with live action on stage. Even BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Mark Murphy makes an appearance, voicing the match commentaries for the recreations of the iconic 1980/81 games.

Arnim Friess’ lighting and AV design help push the story along, helpfully projecting key dates and locations on a large screen before opening up to reveal the live band suspended above the stage.

Music is also a key part of this production, aiding the transition between scenes and breaking up an otherwise tense story. The multi-talented actor-musicians perform a catalogue of 1980s hits, from punk rock and disco to New Romantics and classic rock, all under the watchful eye of musical supervisor Ben Goddard.

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME

The cast of NEVER LOST AT HOME. Photo Credit: Mike Kwasniak

All the cast capture the enthusiasm, excitement, and loyalty of a true Super Blues fan, but it is Peter Peverley who truly stands out. Making a welcome return as Ipswich Town F.C. manager Sir Bobby Robson – a role he previously played in OUR BLUE HEAVEN – Peverley has Robson’s mannerisms down to a fine art, capturing the enthusiasm and humour of the legendary man.

Of course, those who lived through it will remember that the early 1980s wasn’t all sunshine and roses. De-industrialisation, catastrophic unemployment and social unrest made it a tough time for many families. While Rowe’s script does touch on this, it is sometimes too easily brushed over in favour of the excitement and escape that football provides.

That said, you don’t have to be an Ipswich – or a football fan – to enjoy NEVER LOST AT HOME. This is very much a musical celebration of family and community. And if that doesn’t put a smile on your face, the surprise appearance of a few famous faces at the end certainly will.

NEVER LOST AT HOME runs at The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until 9 October 2021.