The Red Lion
You wait nearly ten years for a brand-new Patrick Marber play to arrive, and then you get The Red Lion, which is more of a gentle whimper than a full-blown roar of a play.
Marber's own hugely distinctive theatrical voice first emerged eloquently in the self-same Cottesloe Theatre (now the Dorfman) in 1995, which was soon followed by Closer in 1997 at the same address, recently so memorably revived at the Donmar Warehouse.
But whereas both of those plays had an intensity and urgency as they took you into their worlds of poker players and romantic intrigue and betrayal in the (early) internet age, Marber's new play is a much more slow-burning, less flashy piece.
We're back, as in the poker playing backroom of Dealer's Choice, in an all-male setting of brinkmanship and betrayals, but this time in the rather run-down dressing room of a rather run-down, non-league semi-professional football team.
Here, tribal and team loyalties are put to the test when the team's manager Kidd (Daniel Mays), whose own life is imploding in debt and homelessness, seeks to use the arrival of a promising young player Jordan (Calvin Demba) to rescue himself ahead of rescuing the club; but the long-serving and loyal kit-man Yates (Peter Wight) proves to be a challenging adversary to fight for the club's real values.
Marber's intimate chamber piece suffers from the fact that the wider world doesn't seem to intrude here: though kit is put out for an entire team, we don't see (or even hear) another player all evening long. But if that creates a sense of improbable dislocation, Anthony Ward's set summons up the grungy atmosphere with effortless ease, and Ian Rickson's beautifully acted production brings each of the characters to fully inhabited and utterly convincing life.
Peter Wight perfectly conveys the diligent but world-weary loyalty of a man who has seen his club hit the buffers; Daniel Mays is equally superb at the unease of a man with his own deeply divided loyalties; and newcomer Calvin Demba is a sharp new presence wrestling with demons of his own.