Much like the beautiful game, this play has it all: drama, comedy, passion, poignancy and ironing. The Live Theatre’s intimate auditorium was gripped by the story from the first whistle to the last and, given that the show runs for an hour and 45 minutes without an interval, it was remarkable how quickly it seemed to go – time flies when you’re enjoying quality theatre.
The much-hyped film Free Fire has seen mainstream audiences get on board with one-setting narratives so it’s perhaps fortuitous that this play is hitting Newcastle around the same time. Without the constant changing of sets, the audience is free to focus on the story, rather than working out where the characters are. The audience are further aided by the fact that there are only three characters in the whole thing: Yates (John Bowler), the old kit-man; Kidd (Stephen Tompkinson), the manager; and Jordan (Dean Bone), the promising young prospect.
As the play progresses we follow the story, set over the course of three Saturday afternoons during the football season, through conversations between the characters, relying on their version of events off-stage to inform our knowledge; making constant decisions about who to believe and who to root for. We’re never quite sure though, as the characters’ flaws are thrown into sharp relief as regularly as their redeeming qualities.
Each actor brings real passion to their performance. In his role as Yates, John Bowler demonstrates great comic timing, while also delivering some incredibly heartfelt monologues. Stephen Tompkinson is outstanding as Kidd, the ambitious manager, turning in a performance that is equal parts boisterous and desperate – perfect for his character, while Dean Bone plays Jordan with exactly the right amount of desire and vulnerability.
The actors are only as good as the script, however. Fortunately, Patrick Marber’s script is excellent – it’s witty, keeps the audience guessing and clearly draws on a real wealth of knowledge of the game. This isn’t some Hollywood blockbuster, rags-to-riches, boy-done-good tale – it’s gritty and it’s real and it makes you want to get down the park for a quick game of five-a-side before it gets too dark to see the ball.
Newcastle is a city that thrives on the fortunes of its football team. Rafa may well get the Mags promoted this season and, if that goodwill has you itching for a bit more football in your life, get along to The Live Theatre and see this show – it’s unbelievable, Jeff.
The Red Lion is showing now at The Live Theatre and runs until 6 May. For more information and to book visit www.live.org.uk