Issue date: Mon 23 January 2017
The moving story of a much-loved cricketer whose career was ended when he lost an eye in a car crash will be told in a critically acclaimed one-man show at Greenwich Theatre on Tuesday, March 14.
Colin Milburn – whose 18-stone frame earned him the nickname of “Ollie” after Oliver Hardy – was the unlikely Sixties sporting hero whose name is famously on the honours board at Lord’s for scoring a century for England against the West Indies.
But When The Eye Has Gone – written by former player Dougie Blaxland – is about how Milburn tried to survive the accident that ended the great passion of his life. He laughed and joked as he left hospital, playing the happy-go-lucky character that people loved, but in reality, he suffered a great emotional loss and died from a heart attack aged just 48.
Dan Gaisford plays Milburn and the 50-odd characters the cricketer looks back on after his career has ended. “He never had a safety net and the play was commissioned by the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) as part of their mental awareness initiative,” said Dan.
“The PCA is making people aware of the culture around cricket and other professional sports, and they are actively on the lookout for cricketers who might be struggling in a similar situation. As with Paul Gascoigne, it seemed as if Colin contributed to his own downfall in a way.
“I wasn’t a cricket fan as such but the more I found out about Colin Milburn the more I realised what a big figure he was and how his legacy lives on among cricket lovers today. We toured the play at county grounds in November and there was still a feeling of real affection for him.”
The play is being presented by the Roughhouse Theatre company. “I’ve worked with them a couple of times and went for an audition like everyone else,” said Dan. “I don’t look like Milburn at all but Roughhouse wanted to go way beyond the surface level so it was quite interesting to have an actor who doesn’t resemble the character.
“The funny thing was they wanted someone with good balance because although Milburn was 18 stone he was a good athlete and had great balance, which helped to make him so successful. It’s a great play, really well written, and we had some lovely reviews.
“One of the things I liked about him was that he was a proper working class hero. At the time in the Sixties cricket was still very conservative with a public school image. His success was fantastic really, almost like a rock and roll star.”
“I’ve actually met people from those times who are characters in the play – which is part scary but part brilliant. Colin loved being around people and people loved being around him, but now I suppose we realise that someone should have seen enough to help him with his drinking and lifestyle. At the same time I think we are lacking characters like Colin Milburn today.”
*When The Eye Has Gone – Greenwich Theatre [GT Studio], Tuesday, March 14, 7.30pm.