Nearly 30 years after his death, Eddie Waring still polarises opinion. To his detractors he was a frequently comic stereotype of the Yorkshireman, amusing southerners rather than stressing the purist appeal of the game.

The premise of Playing the Joker is that a representative of the 1895 Club, a group which campaigned for the removal of Waring, talks his way into Eddie’s sanctum at the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds and confronts him with his failings. After he is ejected, Eddie has the chance to state his own philosophy in monologue and interview.

Clavane’s text is lively and varied – unpredictable even – but its strength lies mainly in the character of Eddie Waring as played by Dicken Ashworth with dignity and conviction, avoiding too close an attempt at impersonation. The opposing point of view is undermined by having as its proponent a manic young man clearly unhinged by the death of his father whom he feels was betrayed by Waring. William Fox’s energetic performance brings out the character’s instability rather unrelentingly. In contrast is David Kendra’s droll solidity as the hotel doorman.Playing the Joker

As a play Playing the Joker needs more: more time to make its points (it runs to 50 minutes), more research into Eddie Waring and his opponents, more credibility in the case against Waring – interestingly It’s a Knockout, with Eddie at his most populist, barely figures. I learned much more about Eddie Waring from the Q & A session (almost all of it favourable) than from the play.

However, James Blaney’s production for Red Ladder has one huge advantage. It can sit down in an open space between the chairs of a club lounge or function room and doesn’t need fussing with lights and so forth. A play about rugby league going out to the clubs is a wonderful idea and, if the play has its weaknesses and limitations, it’s certainly worth watching and arguing over.

In addition to dates in Lancashire and Cumbria, Playing the Joker visits seven more Yorkshire Rugby League clubs: Batley Bulldogs (13 May – morning), Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (13 May – evening), Featherstone Rovers (15 May), Hunslet Hawks (22 May), Castleford Tigers (28 May) and Hull F.C. (29 May). The play can also be seen at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds (11 May) and Masham Town Hall (17 May).