September 18, 2023

Norfolk underdog racehorse takes centre stage in new drama

An against-all-odds sporting triumph involving a Norfolk-owned racehorse has been turned into a new stage drama which is heading to Sheringham Little Theatre in November.

Unfancied Sprowston Boy shocked the turf world at Ascot when he romped home in a high-profile race with the famous course’s first ever women jockey winner in the saddle.

Now the 1987 tale of the horse, pioneering rider, and its Norwich owners – salesman Geoff Whiting and coalman Kenny Blanch – are being retold in Horse Play, penned and performed by Geoff’s granddaughter.

Katie-anna Whiting, who also now lives near Sprowston Road where the pals grew up, is one of the two actors who retell a “feelgood story of a successful underdog” in Horse Play which tours a dozen dates in Norfolk and Suffolk during November, including Sheringham Little Theatre on November 24.

“When I was younger, I was aware of granddad’s Sprowston Boy story because of the pictures – but didn’t realise what a big deal it was,” she explained.

When the actor started her own theatre company, The Whiting’s On The Wall, and began staging productions with an East Anglian flavour, Katie-anna realised she had a perfect storyline in her own family archives.

The playful and poignant production will chart Geoff and Kenny’s life-long friendship, shared love of racing, and star horse Sprowston Boy which was bought in 1984 from Newmarket Paul Kelleway. It shook the racing world when, despite its 12-1 odds, it was ridden to glory in the prestigious Queen Alexandra Stakes by Paul’s daughter Gay, who has also been involved in creating the drama.

Katie-anna added: “I began looking at it as a TV documentary but could not fund it and put it on the backburner, then realised it was the right time to make it a stage show as I had the right team to do it.”

Months of research, including making audio recordings and sourcing video footage, was helped by an Arts Council grant. The show also has original music by Skinny Boy Tunes.

She will play her grandad, and other characters including a racing pundit, while movie actor Florence Wright will play Gay.

Granddad Geoff’s love of horses even saw him run away from home to be a stable boy in furtherance of his dream to be a jockey himself – before his parents found out and brought him home to Norwich to get a “proper job” said Katie-anna.

It was a love reinforced during wartime service when he was posted to Rangoon and worked with mules before having careers as baker’s boy and paraffin deliverer, then later running a care home at Horsford.

Sprowie retired to Felmingham, with a filly for company, where Geoff would visit him every day. The horse won 13 times on the flat and over hurdles and fences netting more than 100,000 in prize money – having been bought for £4500. It died in 2010, aged 27. Geoff, who lived at Spa Common near North Walsham in his latter years, died in 2014 the day after his 90th birthday.

Katie-anna said the new play was “a nice bit of 80s nostalgia with some comment on sexism at the time including Gay being shunned by other jockeys after her big win.”

Horse Play’s tour begins at the Garage Norwich on November 3 and passed the finishing post at the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket on November 25. It is at the Little Theatre on Friday November 24. Tickets available here or through the box office on 01263 822347.

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