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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Red Lion
Dorfman Theatre  Summer 2015

Three-character plays can too easily slip into formula. A and B have a scene talking about C, and then B and C discuss A, C and A talk about B, and around the circle a few more times. 

In Patrick Marber's new play A is the veteran trainer-kitman of a local semi-professional football team, B is the ambitious manager and C a new young player with promise. 

They all love the game and the team, but we gradually discover that their love takes different forms and covers different agendas. 

The kid sees this as the first rung on a ladder to real success, the old guy is hanging on to vestiges of his youthful glory as a player, and the manager is in it for what he can get, be it through petty embezzlement, kickbacks or a piece of the boy's future. 

In the course of the play, while continually and unironically asserting their love and loyalty, they will each betray the other two to achieve their ends or protect themselves, and all will lose out in the process. 

It is much to the credit of playwright Marber, director Ian Rickson and the actors that none of the characters will completely lose our sympathy, as we understand that they are always driven by hunger for more or fear of losing what they have, and never by malice. 

And as formulaic as the play's structure is, that sympathy helps flesh out the characters and hold our interest. 

I am sure it helps if football means more to you than it does to me, so that you can empathise with the way the three men, in their differing ways, define themselves so completely through the game and depend on it so totally to fulfil their various dreams.

But even a non-fan can comprehend how there is no contradiction for them between their love of football and their abuse of it for their own ends, and that insight is probably the play's strongest aspect. 

Daniel Mays has the flashiest role as the constantly and sometimes frantically thinking-on-his-feet manager, his desperation repeatedly breaking through his polished veneer. 

Peter Wight as the older man and Calvin Demba as the player not only provide solid support but convincingly depict the quieter insecurity and unhappiness of their characters.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Red Lion  - National Theatre 2015  
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