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Back in the game

Patrick Marber is on home turf with his new play about a struggling football club

Isabel Lloyd | May/June 2015

Poker, class warfare, sex, and now sport: Patrick Marber, former gambling addict, 1990s good-time lad and, since 2010, a director of Lewes Football Club, tends to write about what he knows. His first play, “Dealer’s Choice”, debuted at the National Theatre in London in 1995 and explored poker and male ambition; his second, “Closer” in 1997, laid into sexual politics and class resentment with a combination of wit, violence and emotional disquiet that confirmed him as a star. Ten years of solid work, including successful screenplays (“Asylum” and “Notes on a Scandal”), followed, before the well ran dry and he resorted to script-doctoring and racking up debt, while also moving his family out of London. But now he’s back, with “The Red Lion”—his first new play since 2007—set in a struggling, non-league football club.

The Donmar’s recent revival of “Closer” showed that Marber’s writing has aged well. It may have lost some of its in-yer-face power to shock—audiences no longer register the f-word with a seismic shudder, so ending the first act with a man screaming “Now fuck off and die, you fucking slag” is barely more worrisome than Eliza Doolittle’s once-appalling “Not bloody likely”. Instead you could see the intelligence behind the play’s construction, a subtle texturing of themes originally obscured by the sandstorm of sweariness.

The setting of “The Red Lion”—scented with the smell of dirty boots, testosterone and failure—is home turf for Marber, and the casting is promising, including Daniel Mays, an actor with a face like a quaking pudding and the ability to flip from macho mockney posturing to comic vulnerability faster than you can say “Where’s my pint?” It could go all the way, Gary. ~ ISABEL LLOYD

The Red Lion Dorfman, London, from June 3rd

 

THEATRE AT A GLANCE

Krapp’s Last Tape (Barbican, London, June 19th-21st). As a director/designer Robert Wilson is a colossus, but chances to see him act are rare. I heard him give a cast notes once: it was like three years of drama school condensed into 15 minutes, so watching him tackle Beckett should be a treat.

Greeks (Almeida, London, May 29th to Nov 14th). An ambitious, exciting three-part season rewrites “The Oresteia”, “The Bacchae” and “Medea”. Lia Williams, Ben Whishaw and Kate Fleetwood (pictured) lead.

The Flick (Barrow, New York, from May 7th). Now it’s won a Pulitzer prize for drama, Annie Baker’s slow-burn, slice-of-life play about three employees in a local cinema gets a second run, with the original 2013 cast again benefiting from Sam Gold’s emotionally precise direction.

The Twits (Royal Court, London, Apr 7th to May 31st). A new adaptation, by the boundary-pushing Enda Walsh, of one of Roald Dahl’s best-loved children’s stories. It’s directed by John Tiffany, who treads well the line between populism and proper theatre, so the Court must be hoping this one will run and run.

Temple (Donmar, London, May 21st to July 25th). With its multiplicity of personalities, its eccentric social rituals, and its all-out attack on the great divisions of early 21st-century Britain, Occupy London was a play waiting to happen. Steve Waters puts it on paper; Simon Russell Beale brings it to life.

An Act of God (Roundabout, New York, from May 5th). The Almighty gets his satiric moment in the spotlight. Jim Parsons—the pernickety, high-status geek from “The Big Bang Theory”—is a natural to play a deity kvetching about Creation.

Othello (Royal Shakespeare, Stratford, June 4th to Aug 28th). Hugh Quarshie will have his work cut out to banish the memory of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s definitive Moor; he’ll be aided by Lucian Msamati, a lovable rogue in “Game of Thrones” and now the RSC’s first black Iago. ~ IL

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