Justly praised at the International Youth Arts Festival last year, The People's Champion is a full-on one-man production from actor and playwright Andy Currums - describing the life and times of dissolute snooker legend Alex Higgins. Higgins is a man who started from nothing, got it all, lost it all, then got (and lost) it again; and Currums' script does a decent job of riding that rollercoaster, offering some compelling and occasionally-surprising insights into the troubled champion's mind. It's far from flawless, but it's filled with clear promise for the future.
You don't need to be a snooker fan to appreciate this play, though I've no doubt there's plenty in the script to please the true aficionado. Indeed, I think I may have enjoyed it more because I didn't know the details of the story - didn't know which matches Higgins was destined to win and lose. Reflecting the protagonist's reckless self-confidence, the script cleverly engineers doubt around apparent certainties, so that even when Higgins is flying high you fear a crash might be just heartbeats away.
Currums is a confident and courageous actor, committing himself both mentally and physically to an extremely demanding role. Alone on a bare stage, without even a snooker cue to cling onto, he successfully conjures the smoke-filled matchrooms, turbulent press conferences and sordid flophouses which variously comprised Higgins' world. Currums also contributes some adventurous direction, including a crux scene performed - boldly but magnificently - flat on his back on the floor.
The constant on-stage activity powerfully evokes both a driven man and an unhealthily restless mind. But the whole thing's performed with the volume set to 11 - which means that, when Currums wants to add emphasis, an outburst of obscenity is the only way left to go. Over time, I grew desensitised to such a full-throttle portrayal; perhaps it reflects the real Higgins of the 1970's, but for the sake of engaging theatre it might help to tone it down.
And although Higgins' life is evidently a troubled one, I never quite felt the sense of sadness that should surely accompany his story. The script's excellent when it addresses his early years, ably reflecting the maelstrom of forces which drove the young man on. But it falters a little when he enters his personal wilderness; there must be true anguish lurking here, yet The People's Champion never quite stares into the abyss.
To be as good as it plainly could be, this play needs a little more subtlety and a little more darkness. But it's a very enjoyable watch - I was astonished when the lights came up, and I realised the hour had already flown by - and Currums is a performer worth watching, too. His next show could be a true champion.