Touring – reviewed at Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
Rapture Theatre shoots, and scores, in a soccer drama by Patrick Marber that even non-sports fans will love.
Non-league football team the Red Lion is having a golden period – eight games in a row won under manager Jimmy Kidd. When a hugely talented new player, Jordan, joins the team, the only way is up.
Club legend turned kit-man John Yates takes the youngster under his wing, aiming to protect him from the sleazier side of the game. But Jordan has a secret…
Football as Greek tragedy, that’s what Patrick Marber’s pithy play – the length of a football match – provides. Nobody eats their children, true, but there is a sense that the young are being sacrificed for the glory of others.
In this case, it’s Jimmy who sees Jordan as a ticket to bigger things, putting him in conflict with born-again idealist John, who wants to preserve whatever purity survives in a game that’s become more business than beautiful. As one whose interest in soccer begins and ends with Roy of the Rovers comic, I wasn’t sure a football play would be my thing. I needn’t have worried.
From the moment John McArdle’s John appears on the convincing changing room set, ironing the kit, to the final lines, The Red Lion grips like David Beckham to his mobile phone. McArdle brings a boyish earnestness and solidity to Yates – this is a man you can trust. And Harry McMullen’s outwardly naive Jordan badly needs a father figure to turn to as he begins to negotiate a world of scouts and agents, contracts and bungs.
He quickly realises that Brendan Charleson’s Jimmy, swaggering around in spivvy coat and Malcolm Allison fedora, isn’t a man to be taken at face value. Mind, it’s not like Jimmy is making out he’s Mr Clean, admitting ‘I’m a prickly prick of a person’.
He won’t ask Jordan to cheat, per se, just to be a ‘team player’ – fall on the ground when he’s been slightly jostled by another player so the ‘blind refs’ don’t miss the ‘narrative’, that kind of thing.
Director Michael Emans draws excellent performances out of his leading men. While this is a three-person play, it’s basically a series of two-handlers, as the characters talk ambition, family, loyalty, faith, truth and everything else that makes life worth living.
precision and passion
Marber’s script is filled with meaty speeches that, because they’re delivered with precision and passion by the players, nevertheless sound natural.
The Red Lion Harry McMullen. Pic Richard Campbell
McArdle and McMullen are excellent throughout – the latter superbly showing off his character’s footie skills without benefit of a ball – but it’s Charleson who really catches the eye as a man who’s not a villain, but naughty enough to be fascinating and fun. Charleson plays him with a Mephistophelean twinkle, but there’s real vulnerability behind the facade.
The Red Lion was at the Brunton for one night only, but if you missed it, there are plenty more chances as the production tours Scotland. Hop on the team bus and give this brilliantly produced play your support.
Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval)
The Brunton, Ladywell Way, Musselburgh EH21 6AA. Phone booking: 0131 665 2240.
Saturday 11 May 2019.
Run ended, show continues on tour.
The Red Lion on tour:
Thurs 16 May
Sat 18 May
01786 27 4000
Mon 20 May
Thurs 23 May
Beacon Arts Centre
Fri 24 May
Sat 25 May
Harbour Arts Centre
Sun 26 May
Eastwood Park Theatre
0141 577 4956
Tue 28 May
Fri 31 May
Sat 1 June
Fri 7 – Sat 8 June
Thurs 13 June
Sat 15 June
Adam Smith Theatre
Tue 18 – Sat 22 June
0844 871 7647
Brendan Charleson. Pic: Richard Campbell