Lardo**** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: March 6, 2015 in Theatre

LardoThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

It is many years since wrestling disappeared from the schedules of the main television channels and icons such as Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks have faded into distant memory. So it will come as a surprise to many that the sport is still going strong, at least in Glasgow where Mike Stone’s new play is set. Lardo is a rotund, not too bright young man who has not quite grown up. He believes that his father died in the wrestling ring when he was a child and sets his heart on going into the same profession. Daniel Buckley is ideal in the role; wearing spandex to emphasise every unflattering bulge, it is easy to believe that he would create a sensation on You Tube and generate the following needed to draw crowds to Wrestling. Buoyed by his internet success, he turns his back on his pregnant girlfriend (Laura Darrall) and knocks on the door of ruthless promoter Gavin Stairs (Nick Karimi). The set for Finn Caldwell’s production could not be simpler – a wrestling ring filling almost the entire performance space – and it provides the stage for several breathtakingly realistic fight sequences. The close proximity of the audience, on two sides of the ring, is a key factor and the actors/fighters milk audience participation for all it is worth. Wrestling in the liberated era includes both sexes and Zoe Hunter gives a strong performance as “Whiplash Mary”, a fighter bruised inside and out. As operated by Stairs, played by Karimi as an ugly thug, Wrestling is a seedy business, at odds with the modern world. When a Health and Safety officer (Rebecca Pownall) intervenes, Stairs’ response is to seduce her and carry on regardless to push for further extremes of violence. Lardo’s friend who fights under the name of “Wee Man” (Stuart Ryan), takes the worst of the resulting knocks. Due to doubling up of roles, all six actors get turns in the ring and the action eventually climaxes in a Rocky-style showdown. Those who have always seen Wrestling as part sport, part theatre, may well be inclined to comment that it has at last found its natural home. Stone touches on serious social issues – the irresponsibility of exploiting uneducated youngsters who are greedy for fame and wealth and the immorality of feeding the public hunger for ever more realistic violence. However, he does not dig too deep, preferring to wrap his play in a simple and sometimes trite storyline, leaving plenty of room for the action sequences. On balance, his approach seems to have paid dividends and he could well have created a sizeable popular hit.

Performance date: 5 March 2015

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