The Red Lion

Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion transfers to Trafalgar Studios, bringing us closer to an understanding of the devastating reality of England today within the confines of a sweaty semi-professional football club locker room. Following its sell-out run at Live Theatre Newcastle earlier this year, actors John Bowler, Dean Bone and Stephen Tompkinson reprise their roles as three generations of footballers. With the characters Yates, Kidd and Jordan all at different stages in their football careers, the Red Lion Football Club locker room offers its audiences much more than discussions about football culture, but about the values of community, tradition, loyalty and pride.

Patrick Marber’s passionate characters weave a story which is insightful and poignant, bringing audiences into the heart of the game.

In the intimate theatre space, audiences are plunged deep within the unseen politics of the non-league football world, where a club is kept alive only by the dedication and passion of the fans. John Bowler’s old Jonnie ‘Ledge’ Yates lives and breathes Red Lion F.C. as a golden age player, local legend, disgraced manager and now kit-man ironing the red and yellow shirts as the story unfolds. Bowler grounds Yates’ crippling sensitivity through quiet power and determination in order to see Jordan (Bone) survive the manipulation of corrupt manager Kidd (Tompkinson). Hissing and spitting, both Kidd and Yates scrap and taunt one another in order to sink their claws into the young and promising player Jordan in the hopes of restoring the club to their version of glory, unbound from the control of the financially exhausted board members.

Tompkinson dominates the stage as the crooked manager Kidd, driving the show forward with an electric performance sizzling with seedy charm, passion and surprising vulnerability. He desperately clings to whatever he can as his life falls apart, lying and cheating wherever he can as a means of survival. Bone offers a delicately intense insight into a young man’s battle with his belief, ambition and struggle with masculinity. Tension bubbles between all three performers as they each unveil layers of corruption which eventually lead to their downfall. Revealing each of them as once the abused and the abuser at some point throughout their lives and the play itself, Marber offers his audiences wholesome and complex characters in a play intended as metaphor for life in England. A game and football club once built for the community and its spirit, now only a short few years from being ‘sold off to the highest bidder’ to become a landscape for property developers. The text is filled with romanticism with its dreamy monologues and triumphant tangents which tend to drag in places, but are delivered with sharp wit, rampant energy and cruel realism.

The Red Lion shows us the neglected side of the football industry and the current state of affairs in England. This is not a team of millionaires running about a field lining the pockets of the corporations which back them, this team is built upon camaraderie, masculinity, belonging and loyalty. Patrick Marber’s passionate characters weave a story which is insightful and poignant, bringing audiences into the beating heart of the game.

Reviews by Isabella Javor

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The Blurb

Three generations explore contrasting ideas about loyalty, ambition and what it takes to win in this powerful locker room drama from multi award winning writer Patrick Marber. A promising young football player arrives at a struggling non-league club and pits the veteran kit man against the ambitious manager who’ll do anything to keep the club and himself afloat. 

Directed by Max Roberts, this new version of The Red Lion transfers to London following a sell-out run at Live Theatre and stars Stephen Tompkinson (DCI Banks, Drop the Dead Donkey), John Bowler (DCI Banks, The Bill) and Dean Bone (Vera).

 In a play that resonates in contemporary British society, The Red Lion goes far beyond the pitch to look at hope, obsessions and the desperation of humanity to be a part of something.