The Red Lion @ The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
The Red Lion – Patrick Marber's portrait of football champions – depicts a swindler, a nostalgic fool and a talented hopeful, revealing that every hero has an inner antagonist
The Red Lion is an examination of three generations of men devoted to their football club. Jordan's abilities as a football player draw the eye of manager Kidd and mentor Yates. Both take an interest in the boy – one for personal gain, and the other for validation.
Patrick Marber’s piece may have been written as a look into the crooked centre which pervades the sporting world, but it also serves as a character study of men and their relationship with the beloved game. John McArdle’s Yates and Brendan Charleston’s Kidd are men raised in a world where the football ground was the community, where boys met, played and learned (different) lessons from the Thatcher era.
Kidd represents the ruthless, financially driven 80s archetype – he’s the product of neoliberalist marketing, perceiving freedom in the ability to make money where he can. Charleston’s performance is the most interesting of the three: he injects the sleazy money-grabber with comedic elements that paint him as a pathetic coward. By contrast, Yates is a man who wears his heart in his colours – a man of the people, loyal to the club.
They say you should never meet your heroes; worse still is to look for a parent in one. Alongside Marber’s deconstruction of the infection at the heart of the game, director Michael Eman scrutinises father figures in football. Both Kidd and Yates provide a role for Jordan that we come to learn is absent. The resulting performances are powerful, situated around failure, betrayal and expectations.
An integral part of the script is humour, which finds solid footing in the locker room for the most part. That humour fails, though, when used ineffectively during unsuitable moments. Scenes of violent conflict and brutality feel like pulled punches. In one pivotal scene, an eruption is met with laughter, delivered in a trembling manner which pushes us uncomfortably from drama to slapstick.
For lovers of the beautiful game, The Red Lion is an intriguing piece of theatre. Its valiant effort to unearth the corruption beneath the apparent honour of the game is commendable. It’s power falters in minor moments, but it doesn’t stop the production feeling accessible to all.