“This isn’t a church, it’s a ‘business!” What a sentiment for a theatre crowd to hear – or indeed anyone with an art, talent or craft within fifty paces of a cash register.
Back after nearly a decade in the dark, the writer Patrick Marber has mustered a slick three-hander. I am someone who actively takes against football. It’s a bloated beast which long trained its eye on the dosh, and has legions of devotees to do the explaining and the covering up for it. This play movingly demonstrates the dedication, and the devastation. All-consuming fandom and those riding it for every penny.

This is a desperate group of lonely men, just wanting to belong. Kidd (Daniel Mays) is the manager of a low-level but quietly well-performing team. He sees himself on the rise. “I’ll kick a puppy” if it will get him his way. Yates (Peter Wright), a former player – old, beaten and washed up – is washing kits.  His devotion for the club runs upsettingly deep. Stirring passions in the latter, and dollar signs in the former, is Jordan (Calvin Demba), a young player with skills too good to be true.

Above all this is a crisp piece of work: a freshly sanded, neatly varnished piece of craft. The set is nicely detailed, the lighting is warm and rose tinted . Director Ian Rickson has marshalled a punchy and funny winner.
With the crushing wit and bouncily intelligent dialogue of Marber in his mouth Daniel Mays scores yet another triumph. As Kidd he masters a confluence of sheer panic and fuck ’em nonchalance , cocky swagger and depressed paranoia. As the play moves, you feel the terrifying precipice this desperate man stands on as deals collapse and plans fail.
Peter Wright is peacefully simple but quietly brilliant at the other end of the spectrum. Where Mays’ character gives us a running rage, Wright is given only one outrage. The rest is calm tragic loyalty, Mays is struggling on the first rung of the ladder out of the club, Wright clinging on stoically as it sinks.
Their hopes and overdrafts are on Demba, as Jordan. Despite only 2 previous theatre credits he holds his own, painting confusion, principle, and the crushing weight of all their hopes.

Marber’s dialogue has a toe-tapping, thigh-slapping, lyrical majesty; the plot, slow at first, is crushingly tragic. Football – “It’s the Wild West out here”.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 to 30 Sept
rating: five     5 Meece Rating


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