Stephen Tompkinson leads a perfectly cast trio of men who are lost in their life and so turn to football, as well as each other, for help. The Red Lion, set in a football changing room, offers a powerful insight into the human condition and the depths we are prepared to go to in order to find answers. This touching look into changing room conversations transfers from the Live Theatre in Newcastle.
This has been quite the year for playwright and director Patrick Marber, one of the hottest names on the London theatre scene. From the National Theatre’s version of Hedda Gabler (which is embarking on a tour of the UK), to the production of his play, Don Juan in Soho, as well as directing Travesties and Venus in Fur, the revival of his play, The Red Lion at Trafalgar Studios, finishes his year on a high.
The play, which debuted at the National’s Dorfman Theatre in 2015, is set in the changing room of a semi-professional Northern football club and Studio 2 offers just the right amount of intimacy for such an intricate play. It’s much more about men’s struggles than it is about football. Although its setting is crucial for its characters, made up of the team’s manager Kidd (Tompkinson), kit man Yates (John Bowler) and star player Jordan (Dean Bone), it is not the focus of the play. Instead, it looks to how the three men function, or struggle to, and soon reveals how much they each have in common with one another, despite their different walks of life and large age gaps.
Each character shows signs of loneliness, desperation and hope. They search for the solution to their problems in the sport, from creating dodgy contracts to substance abuse. The similarity between each of the characters is beautifully subtle and poignant as it soon becomes apparent that each character refers to their relationship with their parents as responsible for determining their current position. This then allows the play to become extremely emotional and stretches far beyond the subject of football.
Although all three men are superbly well cast in their roles, it is Tompkinson who stands out as the struggling manager of the team. He portrays the deranged and erratic Kidd with such sympathy and understanding, it’s hard not to relate to the character on many levels. Both hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure, Marber seamlessly flips between the two naturally, and when delivered effortlessly by Tompkinson the result is extremely powerful.
It’s a hard-hitting and humorous glimpse into how three men are united not only by their love of football, but also by their need for change. It’s a highlight of Marber’s work this year, and director Max Roberts shoots and scores.
The Red Lion Tickets are available now.
Photo courtesy Mark Douet