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The Red Lion play review

Catch this three-hander about loss, rivalry and skullduggery behind a local football club, with plenty of humour thrown in

The new team behind footie play The Red Lion have surely scored a hit.

The play, written by Patrick Marber – the man behind the Julia Roberts and Jude Law movie Closer –  is set in the locker room of a non-league football club, which grew out of a pub team (hence why the name sounds like a boozer). The Red Lion debuted at the National Theatre in 2015 and this new production, backed by The Capitol, is touring as part of Horsham District Year of Culture to a range of venues, including sports clubs, in and near the town from now into September.

Stephen Candy Photography

Don’t be put off by the theme if you’re not sporty-minded. It’s essentially a three-hander about loss and rivalry.

Yates is an old-fashioned kit man who has been around for years and the club is his whole world. Kidd, by contrast is an ambitious younger manager with financial worries and his eye on bigger prizes. They have a tug-of-love, of sorts, over Jordan, a 17-year-old protege from a difficult background who they both have reasons for wanting to help, in Kidd’s case as a way to helping himself. All three are somehow desperate in ways that are revealed in the course of the play.

Stephen Candy Photography

As someone who dips into football for big matches and recognises the offside rule in theory but not in practice, I had no trouble at all following the action. I was most moved by Yates’ back story, which I felt could have made a play all on its own and there are ethical dilemmas in the play for the young protege.

Those with a passion for the beautiful game may connect better with the more poetic moments when Marber drops out of the naturalistic dialogue (including, be warned, strong language throughout) and has one of his characters paint a rosy picture of past, or future, wins.

There’s also plenty of humour in the play as the older characters bemoan the state of the pitch, argue and connive against each other and adopt various methods of persuasion towards their star player.

Stephen Candy Photography

All the acting was strong and I found young Freddie Hill as Jordan particularly believable while the older actors Michael Armstrong and Andrew Fettes brought force of personality to a production that can’t rely on staging or gimmicks.

This tour of The Red Lion is directed by Sean Turner – who’s just spent three years directing West End slapstick hit The Play That Goes Wrong. This is a very different proposition with no collapsing sets and the like. All the action takes place in a changing room but the actors’ constant movement (two of them seem to strip and re-dress multiple times!) prevents it getting visually boring. There is also a clever montage effect at one point, using sound and light and the adjustment of the tactics board and team kit to illustrate time passing.

Stephen Candy Photography

Patrick Marber has a link to Lewes Football Club and based the play loosely on experience gained there. There was a lot of knowing laughter at a reference to how The Red Lion club might lose its ground that was surely drawn from Brighton & Hove Albion’s years in the wilderness. An outline of the behind-the-scenes skullduggery over transfers will sound familiar to anyone who follows football even loosely.

If you enjoy good theatre but aren’t into football you’ll appreciate the play and if you like sport but aren’t much of a theatre goer, this is a great reason to give it a go.

The Red Lion is on tour through Horsham district and Steyning for the rest of August and September (see the full schedule here) Tickets are just £10 (£5 concessions). It’s advised suitable for ages 14+, though bear in mind there’s prolific swearing throughout.

Head to our Facebook page for your chance to WIN a pair of tickets. You have until Fri 23 Aug to enter our prize draw.

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