“There’s no closure until it’s put in front of an audience.”

It’s just after seven and The Butchers Arms on Halifax Road is already buzzing. We battle through the players around the pool table and head upstairs where a buffet is being laid out.

“Remind me why we’re here,” I ask Creative Scene producer Vicky after we’ve ordered our drinks.

“We want an update on our play The Ruck, she says, “and Kevin and Craig are due to meet here tonight.”

It’s true. It’s been a while since I reported on the read-through around the big table in Creative Scene’s offices, so a re-cap is due.

The story so far. Commissioned by Creative Scene, playwright Kevin Fegan has written a play about Batley Bulldogs Girls’ Rugby team, coached by Craig Taylor. Last year, after an unbeaten season, they became the UK’s first female rugby squad to tour Australia. The Ruck is inspired by the girls’ exploits in both Batley and ‘down under’.

“We’ve now appointed a director, Joyce Branagh,” says Vicky, “and Rebecca Foster will be assistant director which will be great opportunity for her to work alongside an experienced professional.

“It’ll premiere at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in September,” she says, “before going on a Yorkshire-wide tour. And before that we’ll do some little 20 minute ‘shorts’ at places like Batley Festival and at the Rugby Club.”

Negotiating his way through some excited young children, Kevin joins us at the bar. “Vicky tell me you helped choose the director,” I say once he has his pint. “Do you like to be involved in the production process?”

“I do. I’m that kind of writer. We were clear we wanted a female director and I’m delighted we’ve appointed Joyce. I’ll be going along to the casting sessions and rehearsals too.”

“Do you have a type of person in mind for your characters?” I ask.

“No. I like to be surprised. Often it becomes apparent during the auditions who the right person is. You have to be careful not to close the door to what someone might bring to a role.”

“I like to be at the rehearsals as well, to be part of the team. I’m clear about what I’m good at and I want everyone else to be good at what they do. Everyone brings their own skills to a production.”

“And tonight it’s a presentation evening,” I suggest.

“Yes. Last year – hot on the heels of the Aussie tour – Craig asked me to present some trophies, which was lovely. And it’s been a while since I’ve seen them all, so it’ll be good to touch base.”

Kevin is keen to keep up his connection with the Rugby Club. “There’s no closure with a play until it’s put in front of an audience. I’m looking forward to hearing the comments of those who’ve inspired it. It matters to me what people think.”

While we’ve been talking Craig has arrived with large boxes of trophies. Once they’re laid out he joins us at the bar and he and Kevin seem to continue where they left off.

It turns out last year’s winning team have pretty much dispersed. “Some are old enough now for the open age women’s team,” Craig tells Kevin, “and some are now playing union.”

“You brought that in, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. The girls play both over there,” he says, meaning in Australia, “and it makes sense for them to play both league and union here too. The seasons don’t collide. So why can’t the girls play both?”

There have been other spin-offs from the Aussie tour too. A couple of the girls – including Craig’s own daughter, Millie – were invited to go on a New Zealand tour with the team that hosted them.

“And now they’ve been offered a full-time rugby league scholarship in New Zealand. They’re thinking of going out there to study and play full time,” Craig says, proudly.

“And I hear there’s a chance the play might go out to Australia too?” I say. “That would be great.”

“Having The Ruck put in front of audiences here in Yorkshire will be brilliant,” says Kevin. “Taking it to Australia would be a real bonus.”

Tickets for The Ruck’s premiere are on sale now.

“Touch and pass, kick some ass.”

“I was commissioned to hang around Batley Bulldogs to see if there was a play there,” says Kevin once everyone is settled around the table.

“I went to see the girls train, spoke to some of them and thought this is what I want to write about. As it happened, Batley Bulldogs Girls – who are UK champions – were about to go on tour to Queensland, Australia.”

CS_250516_008-EditThere are a dozen or more people around the big table in Creative Scene’s Dewsbury office. They’re all here for the first reading of The Ruck.

Playwright Kevin Fegan explains how he was invited to join the 60-strong tour group that, as well as the under 16s rugby league team, included parents, siblings and grandparents. “It was an amazing experience for us all, in different ways,” he says, cryptically.

“And so this is the outcome. It’s a developed first draft that I’m looking to improve so I’m hoping for some honest feedback from you all.”

CS_250516_016-EditThe readers include SceneMaker Rebecca and her students from the West Yorkshire Drama Academy, all poised to read their respective parts. For Kevin, and for the commissioners, it’s an opportunity to hear the play come alive.

Team captain Evie is here with her mum as is head coach Craig, with his eldest daughter and scrum half, Milly. They all know their experiences down under will feature heavily in what they’re about to hear.

“Okay,” says creative producer Vicky, “Let’s dive straight in. I’ll be reading stage directions. Scene One.”

For over an hour we hear how the team comes to terms with its latest recruit; how the players and their families prepare for departure and how, once arrived, relationships become strained in the antipodean sunshine. Evie’s mum giggles throughout.

ruck_reading-Edit“It sounds brilliant,” I say to Rebecca when they reach the end, “I can already imagine it on stage.”

“I don’t know a thing about rugby but I thought it was great,” she says. “For a first reading it was fantastic.

“There’s lots of drama in it,” she enthuses, “interesting relationships between believable characters, and important issues raised which is lovely to see. And I liked the reference to the famous people who’ve come from this area. It’s good to see Batley in a positive light.”

Fifteen-year-old Milly is swinging gently in one of the office chairs, “So, what was it like listening to that?” I ask.

“Good,” she says.

“You’ve done the double really: the first UK girls’ rugby team to tour abroad and now the first to inspire a play.”

Milly smiles broadly and her mum, Amanda, speaks for her: “It’s unbelievable really. So much of it brings back happy memories,” she turns towards her daughter, “when you all ran into the sea together and the bra incident… that was very funny.”

“I thought Kevin did well getting inside the heads of teenage girls from West Yorkshire,” I suggest to Evie at the other end of the table.

“On the way to games he’d come and sit at the back of the bus with us,” she says.

“Earwigging? For research purposes?”

“Listening to conversations,” she says, diplomatically.

“And what will you feel like in the theatre on that first night with lots of people watching this play and hearing about your escapades?”

“I don’t know,” says Evie. “I think it’ll be exciting.”

“It’ll be brilliant,” says her mum. “An amazing experience for all the girls, for all of us.”