Marching on Together*** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: February 6, 2015 in Theatre

IMG_9904This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

“When two tribes go to war…” blares out from a loudspeaker to open Adam Hughes’ new play which takes us back to the days of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Miners’ Strike and football hooliganism. In 1984/85, Leeds United had an indifferent season in football’s second tier, but the gang of thugs which affiliated itself to the club was all-conquering. The play centres on Yorkshire football “supporters” of that era and there is some irony in seeing it pitched up in gentrified Arsenal territory in 2015. The passing of 30 years has seen what sports journalist Brian Glanville once described as “a slum game for slum people” go from being neglected and impoverished to, at top levels, pampered and rich. Happily the world seen in this play is all but gone, although, sadly, inner city gang violence persists in different forms and Hughes’ purpose may be to teach the lessons of the past to new generations. Macca (Adam Patrick Boakes) is released from prison, having served three years for thuggery, to find his former gang mate Jono (Jim Mannering) having moved on to family responsibilities and his own position as gang leader now occupied by the younger Nathan (Alex Southern), a crude bully. He is sucked back into the sub-culture of tribal warfare mainly because other doors are slammed shut in front of him – no employment opportunities and an unforgiving partner (Donna Preston) who denies him access to his son – and he mentors Tommy (Joshua Garwood), a new recruit to the gang. Hughes’ dialogue has an authentic feel, as have all the performances and there are interesting insights into a gang mentality which creates a sort of mini-Mafia, with its own unwritten codes of loyalty and honour. Boakes’ powerful central performance shows Macca as a man unable to control his violent instincts but also gives glimpses of his softer side and his frustration at the hand which life has dealt him. Corrugated iron fences and abundant graffiti in Max Dorey’s set design evoke the austerity of football at that time, probably a factor contributing to the gang activity. Joshua McTaggart’s production is raw and gritty, with strong suggestions of violence, rightly eschewing sentimentality and nostalgia for the 1980s. Although the Miners’ Strike was concurrent with the events depicted, it has only a peripheral bearing on the drama, as does the game of football itself, which is hardly mentioned at all. Hughes’ play could benefit from some tightening up to lessen repetition and it also needs clearer references to connect it with a modern audience. As it stands, it serves mainly as a reminder of a chapter in our history that some would not have known and most others would rather forget.

Performance date: 5 February 2015

Photo: Tania van Amse

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