The Red Lion at the National
Patrick Marber’s writing in this outstanding new play is a masterpiece of social discourse. The simple exchange of words, pumped with the passion of football fever, progresses into a highly dexterous battle mimicking the kind usually left for the field.
When a mysterious young man turns up on their semi-professional doorstep looking for a team to play for, manager Jimmy Kidd and kit man John Yates are set alive with excitement and desire. For Kidd, the top class skill of the boy means big bucks, bigger lights and an end to all his personal woes. But for Yates, the boy is football incarnate, and for that he needs all the protection and guidance that the old, withering kit man can give.
The Red Lion is an accomplished, well-rounded play that reveals the complexity of the professional football world. Between the greedy, corrupt manager, the soft, passionate old kit man and the strong, innocent young talent, a thick knot of lies, greed, love and hysteria develops – a knot that builds pressure and force until it bursts with a fatal potency. The triptych of characterisations allows for a diverse image of the football world, which lets Marber throw in all kinds of emotions and dramatic artistry into his work. Hard emotion and moving dialogue are sharply undercut with bittersweet humour, bringing the unfolding tragedy back down to the muddy earth. The cheeky youth of the boy along with the gentle-hearted old man acts as a counterbalance to the corruption of Jimmy the crook, invoking memories that are somewhere in all of us of the playful joy and the sporting camaraderie of our national sport.
All performances are masterfully executed, right down to the Calvin Demba’s silent but listening boy, but Daniel Mays gives a sensationally polished performance as Jimmy Kidd. Full of energy, emotion, hysteria and yet so controlled, Mays is a deeply affecting and immensely entertaining actor to watch in this spectacular production.
The Red Lion is on at the National Theatre until 30th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.