Monday, 6 November 2017
Review The Red Lion
The Red Lion
by Patrick Marber
When Saturday Comes
TLT's family once dabbled in the beautiful game, before the advent of big money footie, when a teenage schoolboy relative and friends once blithely decided to form a junior league football team.
This momentous moment in soccer's history didn't take place in a pub and, as far as TLT knows, noone involved was a freemason.
However, little did these newcomers know the already fraught atmosphere they were entering: football scouts circling, a notorious opposing team manager taking a swing at the naive father who had taken on the role of manager. After all, who did they think they were? Schoolboy amateurs?!!
This revival of Patrick Marber's 2015 The Red Lion sets the dressing room drama three-hander in the North East where a struggling semi professional team is looking for a saviour.
The manager Kidd (Stephen Tompkinson), harassed by money worries after a failed marriage and without a roof over his head, desperately needs success whether on the field or in financial wheelings and dealings beyond the white lines.
In the dressing room, old guard kit man Yates (John Bowler) is not in such a rush, ironing carefully and methodically shirts for the next game, placing them on hangers lined up on the players' hooks, ready for the next game.
In their own ways, they are both waiting for a player who will save the club and bring at least a sprinkling of past glories - if they ever existed.
The Red Lion tries to encapsulate three generations of footballing and British social change seen through the prism of the dressing room.
It harks back to organized football's amateur origins with its Victorian founding fathers through local councils and small-town business involvement when footballers were paid a meagre wage and had no pension to the current global professional marketplace.
TLT remembers thinking during the previous incarnation of the play in 2015 that there was very much a conflation of football and the parliamentary expenses scandal in the play.
Certainly this is a drama which quietly positions itself as a state-of-the-nation, as well as a state-of-the-game play.
Yet Marber never quite finds the right balance between the male sentimentality about the game, delusions of influence with the sport increasingly a by-product of financial transactions and a genuine, potent spiritual love for the game.
This production, originating in at Newcastle Upon Tyne's Live Theatre, doesn't manage quite to overcome what still feels like rather a schematic piece with the themes announced as patently as a linesman's flag going up.
Nevertheless Dean Bone brinngs the right mix of confusion, over optimistic naivety yet guile to the role of rising star Jordan.
Stephen Tompkinson's performance feels slightly over-egged, although TLT can perfectly believe such characters with sneering personality swings do exist.
However in the intimate surroundings of the smaller Trafalgar Studios space, director Max Roberts could have pulled him back a little to allow the later moments of hurt to emerge more fully.
Yates who has gone through the whole gamut as fan, player, manager and what seems at first to be a sinecure as kit man, is probably the best written of the three roles.
John Bowler's grizzled features and deliberate movements, carrying out traditionally female tasks elevated in male eyes by association with the beautiful game, make for a compelling performance.
There's also a nicely-observed grubby white brick set from Patrick Connellan and terrific sound design from Dave Flynn, providing atmosphere and pace between scenes.
It's a flawed play which has its moments and still, of course, has a relevance and resonance as further British scandals emerge.
TLT does wonder whether an expanded version might work on TV but in the meantime it's an amber/green light.