thu 30/05/2024

The Red Lion, National Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Red Lion, National Theatre

The Red Lion, National Theatre

Patrick Marber's latest is a game of two halves

Calvin Demba, Peter Wight and Daniel Mays in Patrick Marber's new playBill Knight for The Arts Desk

Football is a subject close to Patrick Marber's heart. He's a lifelong Arsenal fan and during his sojourn away from London (and writing, as he was suffering from writer's block for much of it) in Sussex, he became involved with his local non-league team, Lewes, helping to establish it as a community-owned club in 2010.

His beloved sport has inspired Marber's return both to the National and to playwriting (his last stage work was 2006's Don Juan in Soho and his most recent project was script-doctoring the film version Fifty Shades of Grey, which was rejected by the book's author EL James).

Non-sports fans, though, may find it difficult to understand why so much is at stake

We're in the basement of football, in a dingy changing-room of a semi-professional team in the low – very low – leagues, where Yates (Peter Wight), who has been with the unnamed club for decades, is ironing the team's shirts for that day's match. He's sweeper-upper, tea-maker and general factotum for a club he's given his life to, first as player, then manager and now kitman. Kidd (Daniel Mays) is the wideboy manager on the make, barking orders and complaining about the women's and youth teams mullering “his” pitch. Into the club, as if a gift from the gods, comes youngster Jordan (Calvin Demba), who shows enormous promise.

Over three wintry afternoons we see Yates and Kidd tussle over Jordan; Yates recognises their shared passion for the game while Kidd simply wants Jordan to sign a contract so he can take a bung when selling him on to a top-flight professional club. Jordan, meanwhile, has a troubled past and a shocking secret, and despite his Christian faith is no stranger to a judicious lie.

Despite Marber's love for the game, The Red Lion isn't really about football (and fans would do well to ignore the solecisms – football managers are generally Gaffer or Guvnor, not Boss, and no player even at this level of the sport would get into the first team hiding such a secret). Rather, in a world devoid of women – Kidd's marriage is breaking down and both he and Yates are absent fathers, while girls appear not to figure in Jordan's life at all – this is a study of men and masculinity, of belonging, and of the emotional pull of sport for some.

Non-sports fans, though, may find it difficult to understand why so much is at stake for these men, for this club – and Marber's script (which has some sardonically comic moments) sometimes sounds inauthentic in its speechifying, and ultimately doesn't deliver an emotional punch.

Anthony Ward's grubby set is suitably evocative and Ian Rickson's direction, particularly in the pacier second half, is nicely judged. Mays mines the comedy as the cocksure but insecure Kidd, while Wight gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Yates. And Demba – who neatly conveys both Jordan's vulnerability and his gritty defiance – is definitely one to watch.

This is a study of men and masculinity, of belonging, and of the emotional pull of sport for some


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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