Thursday, 9 November 2017

REVIEW: The Red Lion at Trafalgar Studios

Stephen Tompkinson is the devious club manager Kidd in Patrick Marber's changing-room tragicomedy The Red Lion. His fiery first appearance on stage resounds like an air horn, whilst he rants about the pitch falling in to disrepair and the volunteer staff lacking enthusiasm. For a solid ten minutes, the Trafalgar Studio 2 is raptured by his northern coarse vernacular and the audience is visibly in stitches.

Facing a close-up on his fit of rage – and trying to talk reason into him – is his subordinate Yates (John Bowler), once a dauntless fullback and now in charge of the kits. Placidly ironing the shirts, he delivers pearls of wisdom, expressing an empathy that seems to be a foreign concept to his boss. Seeing the game as a noble occurrence that brings the community together, Yates is mocked by the money-thirsty Kidd, whose vision of the football club corresponds to a business transaction, possibly aimed at filling his own pockets.

The biggest bone of contention between them is the young and promising Jordan (Dean Bone), whose commitment to the club is tarnished by a secret that the audience finds out much earlier than the other characters. Object of a ruthless commercial manoeuvre, he's set to trigger the plot-twisting events that transform the cheerful comedy into a personal drama. 

Two-thirds into the play, the pace suddenly slows down to reveal the emotional wreckage caused by Kidd's dishonest affairs. This change of tempo jars with Tompkinson's initial livelihood and the expression of his darkest side – accompanied by tears, threats and emotional confessions – is less entertaining than his unrestrained banter. Nonetheless, his top-notch performance, sustained by Bowler's priceless support, is the real highlight of the evening and a very good reason to buy a ticket for the show.

Inspired by the playwright's real experience with a semi-professional team of
the Conference South, The Red Lion uses a vivid and distinctive language to depict the blemishes of an establishment that often mistakes virtue with value. As often happens in the real world, very little of the club management is moved by honourable purposes and Yates is there to be the voice of the supporters and football-lovers that are always more frequently let down by selfish financial deals which are detrimental to the sport.

With a hat-trick of talent, under Max Roberts' premier management, The Red Lion offers a side splitting and thought-provoking performance of grandstand proportions.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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