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Saints lads add some rugby league grit to Johnny Vegas's This Sporting Life
WHEN Johnny Vegas decided to adapt the classic rugby league film This Sporting Life for a radio play he assembled some of the country’s finest actors to star in his production.
But to add a real touch of authenticity to bring the action to life he looked closer to home - recruiting players from Saints and the esteemed commentator Ray French.
The celebrated 1963 film, starring a young Richard Harris, was based on a novel of the same name by David Storey.
It tells the story of rugby league player Frank Machin, from a mining community in Wakefield, Yorkshire, contrasting life in the dancehall and bedroom with the stark aggression of the rugby pitch.
As part of Radio 4's celebration of British New Wave film and cinema, Vegas has directed a feature-length radio re-working of the northern drama – to mark the 50th anniversary of the film.
The new version is adapted by Andrew Lynch, directly from Storey's novel, and made by Vegas’s St Helens-based Woolyback productions.
The Star revealed in July how the Thatto Heath director, actor and comedian pulled off a coup by recruiting Sheridan Smith, the highly regarded young stage and theatre actress.
James Purefoy plays Machin and Emily Watson is Mrs Hammond and they are accompanied with a touchline that includes John Thomson, Philip Jackson and Smith.
But now we can reveal it is not just the actors' voices that bring the raw emotion of the gritty story to life.
Vegas wanted the rich sounds of the rugby scrum, the crunch of the tackle and the commentator’s dramatic description of the action.
So he turned to some of his friends at Langtree Park for help.
A team from Woolyback headed to the stadium where Paul Wellens, Jon Wilkin, Lance Hohaia and Francis Meli worked to create the thuds and snarls of a blood and thunder encounter.
A Saints source said: “The lads set up doing drills tackling the pads. At one stage Jon Wilkin was running up and down the field with a contraption around himself to provide the sound effects of a player running. It was a good day and they all did great.”
French, meanwhile, whom the BBC says witnessed some of the filming of the 1963 film, was called upon to use his St Helens vocals to add drama to the fictional on-field scenes.
This Sporting Life is on BBC Radio Four at 2.30pm this Saturday, August 31.
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