Imagine a small district like Ashfield being home to two of Britain’s biggest sporting stars. It would sound completely far-fetched - if it had not already happened.
Legendary cricketers Harold Larwood and William ‘Bill’ Voce have gone down in history for their incredible sporting performances and for the key roles they played in the infamous ‘Bodyline’ tour of Australia in 1932/33.
This Ashes tour, which was one of the first big sporting controversies, saw the two bowlers forced to play ‘unsportsmanlike’ tactics by England captain Douglas Jardine, which involved bowling the ball at the Australian batsmens’ bodies.
The tactic worked in as far as it helped to earn England a series victory, but it was deeply unpopular and subsequently affected the careers of the two Nottinghamshire men.
A play telling the story of the tour is returning to Nottingham Playhouse on 27th June ahead of the Trent Bridge test in this year’s Ashes series in July. Though Nuncargate-born Larwood is the main focus of both the play and the original story, Bill Voce, who was from Annesley Woodhouse, played an integral part.
He is less well known, in part because he was always reluctant to discuss the Bodyline series, but his cricket performances more than did the talking during an incredibly successful sporting career.
Actor Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, plays Bill in The Ashes play.
As a cricket fan, he knew all about Voce’s playing days, dubbing him ‘one of the best left arm fast bowlers England has ever produced’.
However he knew less about him as a man because Voce did not really give interviews and did not write books telling his side of the story.
“He was a very private man so there’s not much in terms of resources about him,” said Daniel. It gave me a lot of freedom. I can base my performance on the limited stuff that there is and make assumptions from that.”
The seal of approval for his portrayal of the man came from Voce’s daughter Mollie Shentall.
“She thought I got the performances of her dad down to perfection,” Daniel said. “I was honoured to meet her and listen to what she thought about the play and what she enjoyed about the performance.”
Daniel said that Voce seemed like ‘a great bloke’ who liked a pint and was a big character, but was just not interested in the limelight.
“He was more of a character than Larwood in terms of how he behaved,” said Daniel.
“There’s lots of photos from the tour of him engaging in bizarre activities!
“He was a bit more fun than Larwood but not interested in communicating his side of the story.”
The Ashes play had a very successful first run back in 2011 and received some very good reviews from theatre critics.
Daniel, who is also a Nottinghamshire native, said he is looking forward to playing Bill again.
“It’s nice to come back to the part. It’s the first time I have ever reprised a role in this way so it’s a new adventure and I am also keen to make some improvements if I can. Being a play about sport, The Ashes has helped attract some new visitors to the theatre, who may not usually venture into the ‘performing arts’ world.
“There’s no doubt that shows like this help bring in a different audience,” said Daniel.
“The theatre is richer for it and hopefully those people will then go and see something else. I am all for that - the more people in here the better!”
That said, the play is not just aimed at cricket fans, but is about the relationships between the cricketers, the class divide and the social history of the time.
Daniel added: “It’s about local people coming to see a story about local sporting heroes.”
The Ashes is on at Nottingham Playhouse from Thursday 27th June to Saturday 6th July. Tickets are £7.50 - £27. Call the box office on 0115 9419419 or visit www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk.