THREE LIONS St James Theatre SW1

THREE MEN IN A (PROBABLY RIGGED) VOTE…

In 2010, three men came to a Zurich hotel to present (to a scandal-ridden FIFA) Britain’s case for hosting the 2018 World Cup. David Cameron the chirpy new PM was backed by two icons from different strata of British society: David Beckham and Prince William. William Gaminara, alone among playwrights (very slow, TV commissioners..!) saw that this was a gift. In 2013 I loved the result in Edinburgh; now it’s back, in from a pre-London tour (I caught it in Ipswich) just as FIFA stumbles through the fallout of its next bad decision, Qatar.

From my recce in Ipswich I can report that it is still a blissful farce: sly, sharp, its impersonations just the right side of caricature. A sycophantic Indian hotelier pops in and out of the bedroom where the men deliberate; offstage Boris is in the hotel bar and becomes involved in a reported trouser incident. Each of the men repeatedly has his leash jerked as he fields phone calls from home: Beckham being told to hang his clothes up and blag a seat at the coming Royal Wedding, William fending off Kate’s fear that if invited Posh might sing, and Cameron at one point offstage in the hotel bathroom fending off Nick Clegg while the Prince and the footballer earnestly discuss haircare.

The beauty of Gaminara’s approach is that none of them is cast as villain or gratuitously mocked in tedious leftie news-quiz style. This is more P.G.Wodehouse than The Thick Of It, as he plays not unaffectionately with the interaction of three very different Englishmen united in a quixotic, patriotic attempt which we know will fail. Cameron (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) and Beckham (Séan Browne) are not close lookalikes, but rapidly become credible. The PM is jerkily, selfconsciously masterful as he was in his early days in the job, matily trying to get his kids a playdate with Beckham’s (he is caught secretly practising keepy-uppy before the others arrive). Beckham exudes friendly decency and slow-thinking literalness. Tom Davey however is uncannily like Prince William, with beautiful deep rounded royal vowels: his earnest well-bred goodwill leavened with schoolboy practical jokes (the best capped with “it was Dads idea, I promised I’d give it a go” when he pretends to think the meeting is about cricket, and enjoys the polite panic of the others)..

In the first half relationships ebb and flow, sometimes the two Etonians bonding in reminiscence and pedantry, sometimes William and Beckham affronted by the PM’s arrogance. As they return from ‘pre-meetings’ with FIFA grandees each has his weakness revealed, not least a lovable British incompetence at bribery. Ashok the butler does, at times, become a little tedious with his learned verbosity and rather dated Empire-loyalist caricature, but it transpires there’s a reason for that.   The second act becomes nicely farcical, as Cameron imposes the old Tony Blair / Enoch Powell trick of making them all fill their bladders to add urgency to their big presentation. Which, without crudeness, leads up to the classic trouser moments.

So once again I enjoyed it no end. And there’s a joke I didn’t remember from Edinburgh. The daffy intern gushes that Boris Johnson is “cute”. To which the PM replies “Cute is not the word I”d have chosen. Almost, but not quite…”

Yes, think about it. The Ipswich matinee audience got it immediately, the dirty beasts…

box office http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk to 2 May

rating four 4 Meece Rating

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