The Red Lion, Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, Wednesday 22nd July 2015

July 26, 2015

If I were to tell you I saw a play all about football and then I said I saw a play full of tenderness, delicate emotion, passion and life you may think I was talking about two different plays. But no, The Red Lion is simultaneously completely about football and at the same time not about it at all.

It is set in a dilapidated old changing room and contains just three men of differing ages, points in their life and personalities. But, for all of these men, football and indeed this shabby old room is their world.

I was moved by this play. In a world where much art is about Romantic love and suggests that this is the axis upon which the world turns and the thing that matters above all else, The Red Lion is a quieter affair, about small yet deeply held passions. You could say it is a work about what it is to be a man, but I think it is a play about what it is to be human: what our passions mean to us and what they are to our life. This is a play about love in a non-Romantic sense. And I assume, most people going to the theatre have at least one passion, thus can relate?

The three leads in the play are all great. There is comedy, warmth and the actors are all playing flawed characters who contain both light and dark.  Daniel Mays gets the meanest character to play: energetic, jumpy, self-serving, yet still in moments bringing something beyond selfish drives to this man. Calvin Demba who I haven’t seen before does some lovely work, every action and reaction nuanced. But if it belongs to anyone, The Red Lion belongs to Peter Wight, for his character is the heart and soul of the play and because you’re feeling this so much it makes the end all the more powerful.

The play has one of those satisfying endings as well – you know the kind where you are allowed to understand a little before it happens what is going to happen, so you feel the tension and are willing it to not end the way you’ve already seen it is going to.

The Red Lion is funny at times, but most of all, beneath its masculine surface lies a big beating heart that celebrates the deep-felt passion of these ordinary, flawed men in their small, ordinary lives and as such elevates something beautiful we all possess and makes it art.

As a postscript really because it is my own personal experience, I know nothing about football, but my Dad who is no longer with us was a massive Liverpool supporter and so several times during the play I thought of him. Sometimes in relation to the characters or their words, sometimes just wondering what he might have thought of this play. I don’t think he ever saw a play in his life. And so I did feel quite a lot of emotion while watching and some of it was due to my own experiences, not only the play itself. Yet I think it was a lovely and poignant in and of itself even without any similar personal feelings..?

The Red Lion run ’til 30th September on selected dates if you’d like to see for yourself.  Did you see it?  What did you think?  I realise I didn’t write a thing about the plot or football aspect in this, but.. oh well!?!

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