Brighton Fringe 2012
Nick Hornby’s classic is brought successfully to the Komedia stage in this adaptation by Paul Hodson, who also directs.
Adapted by Paul Hodson from the Nick Hornby classic, Hodson also directs this remount (Steve North starred in the original, here James Kermack comes on as substitute of top-scoring proportions). This is a tale of the seventies and eighties, told through the eyes of a single individual, a football fanatic, and there is much is that is a relevant today as it was then. This is a tale of an Arsenal obsessive with the clever conceit of being an exploration of the nature of obsession. Sometimes a bit Gervais-like in timing and understatement, we hear the story of a man who fell in love with the team that beat Stoke City 1-0.
It was gratifying to see the Komedia upstairs playing host to some theatre again, though it has to be said that the flat screen staging set actor, James Kermack a bit of a task breaking through the fourth wall when needed. He was unnecessarily set high apart and apart from his audience. It’s a testament to his skills that he mostly achieved it. The production would sit more easily on a ground level stage and audience rake, or the intimacy of the semi round that is a benefit to theatre-based storytelling.
Told in episodes, we follow the life of Nick into adulthood accompanied by Football. To succeed this has to evoke the beautiful game. Succeed it does. The writting is crisp, witty and always engaging with plenty of changes of mood, pace, slipping easily between comedy and touching drama. The balance though is set much in favour of comedy.
The solo performance is energetic and in ull control of the stage and the material, it a performance is sharp, detailed right down to the eye movements and holds the Komedia audience interested, laughing and caring about the story. You won’t feel left high and dry if you aren’t a football fan, but there’s extra zing if you are because there’s a lot of clever observation, both of the human condition and the beautiful game that is often a metaphor for it.
Games become chapter headings in this life story. And that is what this is – a well crafted piece of storytelling performance, directed in an unfussy style and resting its hopes on the protean skills of the teller of the tale. James Kermack commands a stage that doesn’t always make it easy for him to connect with his audience. He really came into his own in the second half.
There’s much humour to be savoured but this doesn’t suffocate the narrative, and that is what might have let it down. It doesn’t – the tragicomic material creates an uplifting evening, sometimes feeling like a Brit-flick for the boards.
The tender moments underneath the football give this the depth that makes it work as theatre. This is a play about growing up, about relationships, decision and indecision about finding a goal. And, of course, this is a play about football, which many of the audience has clearly come to see – there were occasional cheers of support!
Bathos is employed a lot, perhaps a bit much until it becomes a bit of an overused sight gag. Even so the facial theatre, timing and commitment of Kermack is premier league.
Hodson employs a lot of comedy devices, quickfire changes and lighting to create a diversity of comedy effects. For example one very clever comedy device is the use of managers who appear to him as gurus in his dreams.
The piece takes on a holographic quality as the biographical landscape of a football team and its milieu reflects the biographical landscape of a human soul, in this case an obsessive supporter seeking a way through life.
Theatre is often a game of two halves and though the first half was strong and full of good play, it felt a little defensive compared to a second half that scored a hatrick of top drawer delivery, tender storytelling and slick, witty, sharp and often impressive one-twos of physical and verbal comedy.
Hodson has adapted and directed Nick Hornby’s classic with deftness and skill and Kermack has delivered the necessary goods on stage.
It got a standing ovation. What football team or theatre company could ask for more than that?