This Rematch Of The Red Lion Improves On Earlier Productions

The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios ★★★★☆

This Rematch Of The Red Lion Improves On Earlier Productions The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios 4
The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios - Dean Bone and Stephen Tompkinson (courtesy of Mark Douet)

Apart from Bend it Like Beckham, contemporary plays about football are surprisingly rare.  You can learn a great deal more about it, and about men’s emotions, by watching The Red Lion, by Patrick Marber at Trafalgar Studios.

Two old muckers run a semi-professional club in the Northern League — John Bowler's wonderfully poetic Yates, a deeply loyal ex-player with the stamp of Nobby Stiles, is the 'kit man' who does the players' laundry and bungs them a tenner when they're short.  Stephen Tompkinson plays manager Kidd with the ambition of Jose Mourinho and the craftiness of Brian Clough, knowing that success is everything, and willing to make any deal to achieve it.  Personally, he's a broken man, and his blunt sarcasm and private pain are superbly combined in Tompkinson's performance.

The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios - Dean Bone and Stephen Tompkinson (courtesy of Mark Douet)

Enter Dean Bone as a promising youngster from Gateshead who just wants to kick a football.  The men take him under different wings: Yates anointing him with liniment and envisioning a goal-scoring messiah, Kidd seeing him as a boost to ticket sales and a profitable option come transfer season, but the boy has issues of his own — a Christian attitude to cheating, a liberal attitude to painkillers.

The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios - Stephen Tompkinson and John Bowler (courtesy of Mark Douet)

What ensues is a tense three-cornered drama, but also a three-dimensional examination of men struggling with conflicted morality.  The strength of Marber's script, improved and tightened since an earlier production at the National, is that the conflicts spin out of wholly natural and convincing dialogue and situations.

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The Red Lion, Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1.  Tickets £19.50-39.50, until 2 December 2017.

Last Updated 13 November 2017