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Stage Editorial

redlion16.jpg The beautiful game?

Get away from football’s Premier League roll-call of badge-kissing, prima donna money-grabbers and you’ll find the true spirit of the game, right? Patrick Marber’s much-lauded ‘The Red Lion’ is coming to Live Theatre in a new production that lifts the lid on the skulduggery that exists in the ultra-competitive twilight world of semi-professional football.

Despite being watched by millions each week, our national sport has been ill-served when it comes to being depicted on stage and screen. Football films tend to suffer from hackneyed rags to riches tales with often outlandish plots (such as 2005’s Goal! that climaxed with Newcastle United qualifying for the Champions’ League, which surely makes this less of a sports film and more of an outlandish fantasy to be filed alongside The Hobbit and Harry Potter). And tackling football on stage has also proved problematic (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game received an early bath), as productions are always hampered by the problem of depicting the game across the boards.

Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion however, won glittering reviews for boiling the action down to the fraught environs of a changing room, in a three-hander that was laden down with glittering reviews when it was first staged at the National Theatre in 2015.

In turns funny and poignant, it looks beyond the riches of the top divisions and plunges us down into the semi-professional leagues, which, nevertheless, are still plagued by wide-boy agents and dodgy deals

Marber, who was a writer and performer on game-changing radio and TV shows such as The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, has a fine theatrical pedigree penning Dealers Choice, which won the Evening Standard Award for comedy, and Closer which he adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. He was also Oscar nominated in 2006 for his film adaptation of Zoe Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal.

The Red Lion has been specially adapted for Live Theatre and will be directed by Max Roberts, with Marber commenting: “I am thrilled to be making my Live Theatre debut. It’s been a great and exciting opportunity to revise the play with Max Roberts at the helm. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing this version of the play in Newcastle.”

Among the actors appearing in the production will be Stephen Tompkinson (pictured) who is well known for his TV appearances in DCI Banks and Drop The Dead Donkey and films such as Brassed Off. He’s no stranger to Live Theatre either appearing as the lead in Faith & Cold Reading. He commented: “Performing at Live Theatre in Shaun Prendergast’s Faith & Cold Reading was one of the best experiences of my career. I am delighted to be back at Live Theatre in Patrick Marber’s brilliant play The Red Lion.”

Making his debut at Live Theatre will be John Bowler (who appeared with Tompkinson in the film Harrigan) who has starred in everything from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet to Coronation Street. He said: “I have always been a fan of Live Theatre and the work Max [Roberts] has created over the years so to be invited to work with him opposite the wonderful Stephen Tompkinson in this brilliant play by Patrick Marber proved irresistible!”

Taking the role of the younger footballer will be up and coming actor Dean Bone, originally from Gateshead, who has had lead roles in Live Theatre’s recent productions The Savage and The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes. He said: “It’s always an absolute privilege to work at Live Theatre. I cannot wait to get started on a project about football, something I feel passionately about. And working with two excellent, experienced professional actors such as Stephen Tompkinson and John Bowler is something any young actor would jump at the chance at.”

If you’re not a football fan, then, rest assured, The Red Lion is about so much more than that, as Marber explores notions of loyalty, loneliness and belonging, with, naturally, his usual flair for comedic dialogue. As Marber’s old mucker, Alan Partridge, would say: “Back of the net!”

The Red Lion, Thursday 6 April-Saturday 6 May, Live Theatre, Broad Chare, Newcastle, 7.30pm (plus some matinee performances on selected days), £10-£26 (with concessions from £6). There is a post-show talk with Patrick Marber on Saturday 8 April after the 2pm matinee. There will be British Sign Language Interpretation of the performance on Wednesday 26 April, 7.30pm; captioning on Thursday 27 April, 7.30pm; and audio description on Saturday 6 May, 2pm. A free touch tour on Saturday 6 May, 1pm is a ‘hands on’ tour of the set describing props, costumes, characters and the visual style of the show ahead of the performance with additional audio description especially for visitors with visual impairments. The 2pm matinee on Thursday 27 April is designated as a relaxed performance which allows a more laid back approach to noise or movement from the audience. live.org.uk