We’ve been reading lately of corruption of football (soccer to Americans) from club shenanigans to World Cup deceit. In “The Red Lion” playwright Patrick Marber has boiled the issues down to a small club and three characters in a well-constructed drama that reveals on a limited scale the corruption that one can find in the larger world of sports. The result is a tense, gripping drama that should work even for those with no special interest in athletics.
Three first-rate actors give outstanding performances that grab our attention and hold it. The scene is the changing room of The Red Lion, a football club that has seen better days. Peter Wight plays Yates, a veteran who as “kip man” is in charge of uniforms and equipment and still idolizes the game and the club. He has little else in life.
In contrast, Daniel Mays as Kidd is a glib, fast-talking, financially-pressed manipulator who has fixed on a talented newcomer whom he wants to sign and earn a fast profit by selling his contract. He couldn’t care less about the lad or the club. But Yates sees the player in a more ethical light, even though he realizes that the star potential is limited by the bad knee that the young man is concealing. Yates, above all, wants to do the right thing for the club.
Calvin Demba makes a good impression as Jordan, the player, who, apart from concealing his injury, wants to be honest and not get involved in double-dealing. He resists pressure to sign a contract without the advice of Yates, while Kidd callously resorts to pressure and deception.
The interaction makes for forceful drama and the sparks fly in the personal battle that rages, all the while making one think of the larger pattern of corruption. In particular, Wight as Yates achieves an earthy poignancy that climaxes at the play’s shattering conclusion.
Ian Rickson has directed with a sure hand in emphasizing the salient aspects of character and maneuvers that Marber has deftly provided in his writing. At the National’s Dorfman Theatre.