Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion was inspired by the writer falling in love with his local non-league football team, and finding he preferred the experience to watching the game at Premier League level. When his team hit financial difficulties, Marber formed a takeover group and continued to run the club on a shoestring budget until leaving the locale.
This experience forms the setting for the play, which takes place in the club dressing room of a non-league outfit, beautifully designed by Patrick Connellan. The Red Lion is told through three characters – the manager Kidd, the team’s odd-job man Yates, and Jordan, an aspiring player– with the action taking place over three Saturdays, neatly dividing the piece up into three acts.
The play details the story of Jordan – the team’s new superstar – and the attempted transferring of him to a better club. As the deal is made complicated by bungs, the saga of who benefits most from the transfer is pushed to the fore. All three men have their own interests in both themselves, the club and each other; and the dressing room becomes a metaphor for society and human behaviour within it.
Although football forms the backdrop to the piece, this is a play for everyone, wonderfully detailing the human psyche at three stages of life from young to old, and the shifting of priorities from desire to ambition to reminiscence. The cast of Stephen Tompkinson, John Bowler and Dean Bone are captivating throughout, with special mention given to the blistering quick-fire nature of the opening act. Marber’s script is a delight; funny, touching and true. All of the lines are human, and the characters have a depth to them that is rarely seen, with surprises right up until the end and a genuine wonder as to what will happen beyond the ending of the play. There’s a sense that although the characters’ lives have changed, the dressing room exists regardless – an effective reminder that our time in the world is fleeting, and life will go on no matter what we achieve, or fail to.