Do you remember the story about cricketer Chris Lewis? He played in thirty-two Test Matches and fifty-three One Day Internationals for England between 1990 and 1998; was a county cricketer for thirteen years, and came out of retirement to play Twenty 20 matches for Surrey in 2008 – not very successfully. He was also found guilty of smuggling cocaine from Saint Lucia into the UK in December 2008, for which he was sentenced to thirteen years in prison. He was released after six years in June 2015.
It was quite a cause célèbre at the time. Why did he do it? Surely not for the money? Didn’t he have the world at his feet? Dougie Blaxland’s The Long Walk Back goes some of the way to tackle these questions. Only some of the way though, because it also raises just as many new questions as it answers! With just a bunk bed, a wicket and a toilet as the set, Martin Edwards as Lewis and Scott Bayliss as his cellmate (whether real or imaginary is up to you to decide) act out various short scenes – in a rather stylised, non-realistic manner, that show Lewis’ distress at incarceration, his mental self-examination and his resolve to survive the experience.
Personally, I can’t imagine how I’d cope with being sent to prison. I guess, somehow, I’d manage it, but don’t press me on the details. The play does make you think how you’d behave if you were in Lewis’ shoes, as it shows how imprisonment affects not only you but your wider family and friends. It also reveals how vulnerable you are – indeed, largely at the mercy of your cellmate in order somehow to get through it all.
You get greater clarity on Lewis’ motivations and explanations when you actually meet him after a short break for a Q&A session with Rough House Theatre Director Shane Morgan. Charming, self-deprecating, and extremely honest, Lewis comes across as a thoroughly decent man, who’s still looking for the answers himself, and using this whole theatre experience as a way of trying to sort out his head. The play tackles the question of taking responsibility for one’s own actions and it’s clear that he blames no one for what he did other than himself. A question from the audience asked whether or not the player associations should take more responsibility for what players do both during and after their career – and Mr Lewis’ answer was, basically, no.
This is an unusual way to spend a Saturday night at the theatre, and, whilst it didn’t soar to heights of great tragedy or huge revelations about the human condition, it did give you an insight into what it’s like to be someone who had it all, then had nothing, and then slowly turned their life back into something positive. The production continues to tour small venues in Bristol, Birmingham, Bath, Leicester, Nottingham and Greenwich.
Production photos by Lisa Hounsome