By Charles Randall
2 April 2019
A new play about the former England all-rounder Chris Lewis and his descent to criminality starts touring this week, including a performance at Reading CC.
Roughhouse and Live Wire Theatre Companies have announced the schedule of The Long Walk Back, written by the award-winning playwright Dougie Blaxland. The play tells the story of Lewis's decline at the end of his professional cricket career and his 13-year jail sentence in May 2009.
Lewis, now 51, was found guilty of smuggling cocaine worth more than £140,000 concealed in liquid form in five tins of fruit juice on his return from holiday in St Lucia at Gatwick airport in December 2008. His fellow passenger and co-accused Chad Kirnon was found with three tins of dissolved cocaine.
Judge Nicholas Ainley said in his judgment after an eight-day trial at Croydon Crown Court that both men were motivated by greed, adding: "The majority of those who are guilty have the courage to face up to what they did and take the punishment. You showed neither of these qualities. In a cowardly attempt to evade justice, you each sought to blame the other for a crime you obviously jointly committed."
The court heard that unemployed Kirnon was stopped on his way into St Lucia in November 2007, carrying £7,000 in cash. It was suspected he used this money to buy the cocaine, and customs officers at Gatwick were tipped off. Lewis apparently attempted suicide during his first night in custody.
Guyana-born Lewis was a significant cricketer in his time. He played for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Surrey, and represented England in 32 Tests and 53 one-day internationals.
As a professional player, he was regarded as rather eccentric and unreliable, but he was much respected by the public for the way as an England player he would encourage children by, for example, joining informal cricket games on the outfield in county games or batting against a queue of young bowlers in the nets.
Lewis retired officially in 2000 at the age of 32 due to injury, a disillusioned man. He nursed hopes he might be a surprise England selection for the 2008 World Cup at the age of 40 when he made a brief return for Surrey.
After his release from prison Lewis completed a speaking tour of county clubs in 2016, when he discussed with aspiring players the pitfalls of professional cricket, how decisions and actions could affect the rest of their lives. In 2017 he had a book published, called Crazy: My Road to Redemption.
Directed by Roughhouse Theatre Artistic director Shane Morgan, The Long Walk Back is based on real events, charting, as the publicity describes it, "the extraordinary journey that took Lewis from the brink of despair to a profound moral awakening".
The tour is supported by the Professional Cricketers' Association, who backed the play about another tragic figure Colin Milburn When The Eye Has Gone. That was a one-man production starring Dan Gaisford in the winter of 2016.
Jason Ratcliffe, of the PCA, said the Milburn play had been a " terrific success" in demonstrating how a life could struggle without direction during and post a cricket career. "All of the events were well attended up and down the country," he added.
The Lewis play raises serious questions about mental health. "I haven’t talked about my state of mind before," Lewis himself said, "but it’s clear to me when I reflect on things, that I was in a very dark place and deeply regret not reaching out to ask for help."
Playing the lead role of Chris Lewis will be Martin Edwards, who has worked extensively in theatre and film. He is supported by Scott Bayliss, who plays the enigmatic part of The Other Man. There will be a questions session with Lewis and the director Morgan after each performance.
The production is funded by The Arts Council, The Big Lottery and the Professional Cricketers’ Association. The tour opens to the public at Chipping Norton Theatre on April 2.
April 1, Mon: Portland Young Offenders, 2.15pm
April 2, Tues: Chipping Norton Theatre, 7.45
April 3, Wed: Phoenix Theatre, Bordon, Hampshire, 7.30pm
April 4-6, Thurs-Sat: The Everyman, Cheltenham, 7.30pm
April 9, Tues: Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution, 2.30pm
April 10, Wed: The Haymarket, Basingstoke 7.30pm
April 11, Thurs: Reading Cricket Club, 7.30pm
April 13, Sat: Royal & Derngate, Northampton, 7.30pm
April 14, Sun: Dorchester Arts, 7pm
April 16-17, Tues, Wed: The Wardrobe Bristol, 7.30pm
April 18, Thurs: The Blue Orange, Birmingham, 7.45pm
April 19, Fri: The Rondo, Bath, 8pm
April 20, Sat: Leicestershire County Cricket Club, Grace Road, 7.30pm
April 23, Tues: Nottingham Playhouse, 7.30pm
April 24-27, Wed-Sat: Greenwich Theatre, London, 7.30pm