The Red Lion (3 stars)

The Red Lion

credit: Richard Campbell

New production of Marber's hit comedy suggests deeper philosophical tensions

Patrick Marber's The Red Lion celebrates the rough-edged authenticity of semi-professional football and bemoans its descent into a quasi-criminal commercialism. Through the shifting personalities of manager Kidd (Brendan Charleson), young star Jordan (Harry McMullen) and aging club legend Yates (John McArdle), Marber plays out what director Michael Emans calls 'a clash between a powerful collective ethic and raw individual ambition'. Each character reveals a degree of dishonesty and self-interest, although it's Kidd who represents the Machiavellian celebrant of the dodgy deal.

Emans' direction is respectful of the script, gradually unspooling the conflict over its three scenes. Charleson's Kidd is cast as petulant, a caricature of the blunt northerner who ultimately breaks in the face of retribution for his antics; McArdle lends Yates a degree of quiet dignity, despite a sense that he has never recovered from his failure as the club's manager. Behind their personal and ideological battle, however, it is the invisible board which wields true power, and their judgement appears impartial and just, winding up the domestic tragedy like a classical deus ex machina.

The production's strength comes from allowing the script's tension to play out at its own pace: Marber confuses the issues at stake with the personalities of his characters, ultimately making the conflict a simplistic clash of good and evil, capitalism and community. The more emotive scenes – such as when Jordan threatens Kidd – lack a raw impact, yet the direction's pacing encourages this football drama to suggest deeper philosophical tensions beneath the soccer surface.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 18–Sat 22 Jun, and touring; seen at Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock.

The Red Lion

Comedy about 'the beautiful game' by Patrick Marber.

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