Religious fervour and football fanaticism have much in common, so it seems entirely appropriate that Patrick Marber’s changing-room drama, The Red Lion should open to the sound of verses that have greeted monarchs entering Westminster Abbey for their coronation since 1626. Parry’s choral setting prepares us not to ‘go into the house of the Lord’ but to enter a temple dedicated to the ‘beautiful game’.
A compelling journey of emotional demands and inner struggles
This is no plush Premier League venue, however, rather home to a struggling semi-professional football club in the sticks, desperately trying for promotion. And don’t expect a sweaty locker-room of beefcake and banter. Set and Costume Designer Zoe Hurwitz nails the location, but Marber leaves it empty, with no distractions to take away from his close-up three-hander that goes beneath the surface of the sport to explore the levels of commitment, murky ambitions and corrupt dealings of those with power and influence, whose goals go beyond a ball in the back of the net.
Crispin Letts opens as Yates, the old-school kit-man, ironing shirts, who has given a lifetime of service to the club in various capacities and become a local legend. In contrast, Kidd (Alastair Natkiel), the current manager is an egotistical, self-seeking piece of work who will profess his loyalty to the club but is really using it to further his own ends and more immediately provide him with some much-needed cash.
His hopes are raised with the arrival of Jordan, a highly-talented new player. Olatunji Ayofe embraces the lads naive persona and the Christian rationale for his expressed honesty and moral high ground. However, as the story progresses Jordan’s cover-up is revealed and his ability to live with contradictions is exposed along with his temper. The other two both see their fulfilment in Jordan. Letts give’s an up-front performance of a man of honesty and integrity who sees in the boy the chance of his club being restored to its former glory, but in so doing engages in a pact with Jordan that will be a boost to his own sense of self-importance, calling into question his real motives for becoming a father-figure to him. Natkiel looks the part of a young manager, exuding confidence and ambition and seeking success, perhaps as compensation for his failed marriage. But in a world of giants, he is small-fry and he ultimately finds himself out of his depth in the wheeler-dealer stakes and the ethical stance of the Board.
The ‘beautiful game’, about which Marber knows so much, is ultimately a just a vehicle for exposing the flawed human condition and the morality, motives and means it deploys. Director Douglas Rentoul sees this and takes all involved on an a compelling journey of emotional demands and inner struggles.
He makes a welcome return to The Queen's Theatre Hornchurch, with this production that he has brought from his from his new post as Chief Executive/Artistic Director at The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.