The Red Lion @ The Brunton, Musselburgh

Image contribution:
Richard Campbell

Writer by Patrick Marber

Director by Michael Emans

The Red Lion is an examination of three generations of men devoted to their football club. Jordan’s abilities as a football player draw the eye of manager Kidd and mentor Yates. Both take an interest in the boy – one for personal gain, and the other for validation. 

Patrick Marber’s piece may have been written as a look into the crooked centre which pervades the sporting world, but it also serves as a character study of men and their relationship with the beloved game. John McArdle’s Yates and Brendan Charleston’s Kidd are men raised in a world where the football ground was the community, where boys met, played and learned (different) lessons from the Thatcher era. 

Kidd represents the ruthless, financially driven 80s archetype – he’s the product of neoliberalist marketing, perceiving freedom in the ability to make money where he can. Charleston’s performance is the most interesting of the three: he injects the sleazy money-grabber with comedic elements that paint him as a pathetic coward. By contrast, Yates is a man who wears his heart in his colours – a man of the people, loyal to the club. 

They say you should never meet your heroes; worse still is to look for a parent in one. Alongside Marber’s deconstruction of the infection at the heart of the game, director Michael Eman scrutinises father figures in football. Both Kidd and Yates provide a role for Jordan that we come to learn is absent. The resulting performances are powerful, situated around failure, betrayal and expectations. 

An integral part of the script is humour, which finds solid footing in the locker room for the most part. That humour fails, though, when used ineffectively during unsuitable moments. Scenes of violent conflict and brutality feel like pulled punches. In one pivotal scene, an eruption is met with laughter, delivered in a trembling manner which pushes us uncomfortably from drama to slapstick.

For lovers of the beautiful game, The Red Lion is an intriguing piece of theatre. Its valiant effort to unearth the corruption beneath the apparent honour of the game is commendable. It’s power falters in minor moments, but it doesn’t stop the production feeling accessible to all.

Review originally published for The Skinny:

Production touring:

Keep on Walking Federico @ The Traverse Theatre

Image contribution:
Actors Touring Company

Writer: Mark Lockyer

Director: Alice Malin

We will never live to see every truth unearthed. We will never find all which has been buried beneath the grains of sand about our own, our parents and companions lives. No matter how hard we try to uncover these, to ponder them – we just can’t do it.

Any familiar with the courageous steps which Mark Lockyer has accomplished in recent years regarding his own mental wellbeing might recognise themes through Keep on Walking Federico. To refer to it as a ‘follow-up’ to his previous production Living with the Lights On wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, but this also stands as a solitary piece. The real grounding feat is that regardless of foreknowledge of Lockyer’s history the production accomplishes a closeness and identifiability with its audience.

Exploring perhaps the second most relatable aspect of life following our own identities – is that of our parents and where we come from. To really answer questions on ourselves, we have to know where we came from and how we came to be. So, Lockyer finds himself in Spain, responding to correspondence about his Father’s history. On the advice of his therapist, Lockyer embarks on a trip to reconnect with his parents, particularly his lesser-known Father.

To help guide Lockyer through his journey are a colourful cast of characters we have no issue in believing are real, despite their overblown nature. All given life, individuality and manners by Lockyer himself. From the enigmatic, envy-inspiring though deliciously named Dr Bueno to the rotund Dutchman that is Damon, Lockyer has encountered enough people to stage a series of plays. The physical transformation for each is impressive, accents accompanying most of them. His Mother though receives a different kind of performance.

The heart of the show rests in these interactions with his departed Mother, the gravitas too, is located here. Powerful messages surrounding death, lost opportunities and the value of parents exist in these snippets. Though suspicions lie that her characterisation is exaggerated, pushed for the stage, Lockyer portrays her with love, determination and in one scene, the monumental power only a Mother could display.

Dedication to enticing an audience’s focus down such a personal journey, even if staged with comedic elements is tricky. Lockyer’s writing is fully engrossing, luckily – we relate to the story on some level to find a reason to become invested. What furthers this is the performance put into it, Keep on Walking Federico is crafted with tremendous passion, which director Alice Malin and the Actors Touring Company are no doubt proud of.

Staged sparingly, our set is simple on the surface, yet conceals many secrets. Its design in relation to the narrative is brilliant. Gradually as Lockyer uncovers his father’s history or his mother’s heroics the set evolves with him, revealing more secrets. Geraldine Williams design works wonders with the clean-cut lighting design by Christopher Nairne.

Transitions, in an otherwise stripped back production, are irksome. Far from poor, they are complex and require adjustment when gauging which character Lockyer is playing, followed by what time period. From an early age, we encounter his mother frequently towards the end of her life. Max Pappenheim’s sound design signals a shift, an ethereal whirring. It works, but it’s the only character interaction to receive one, so change feels sudden, stifling the flow.

The production has issues with flow and wobbly transitions, but manages to keep us invested in its overall story. It does this with recognisable themes, though more importantly a notable, affectionate performance by Mark Lockyer. Keep on Walking Federico is poetically constructed, rekindling an appreciation of our parents.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Production Touring: