Four days in and I’m not even really looking at the brochure anymore. Just tell me where to go and at what time and I’ll shuffle in and look straight ahead. Context is overrated anyway.
This time though, a cast of 13 ran from behind the curtain wearing Fila jackets and yelling football chants, and straight away I was like YES. Young lads mainly, playing working class roles with northern voices – too northern to work out which were real and which were performed. They were cocky and charming and angry and lost. Wanted to either fuck us or fuck us up. Or just show us their new trainers. The kind of lads that now you see in Maccy D’s, but back in the 80s, they were at the footy, beating the shit out of one another in organised ‘scraps’.
This story of a football ‘firm’ – a gang of lads, like a brotherhood, whose pride and masculinity was decided each Saturday afternoon – is not particularly challenging or conceptual, but fuck me it’s the first time my hairs have bristled so far this festival. The New Wolsey Studio was like a seething pit of aggression. Sweat and testosterone and warm lager. But then such smiley camaraderie as well, taking the piss and sticking up for your mates.
Geezers need excitement
If their lives don’t provide them this, they incite violence
Common sense, simple common sense
I don’t want to glamorise the violence in this play (and neither does the play; there’s a moral question asked, even if it not a particularly surprising one) but I do want to celebrate this young company’s ability to assault an audience with so much, and so completely. I mean, onstage violence is so often just embarrassing; it’s ridiculous and choreographed. Here, they achieve what they need to just by performing the tension and hostility (and humour, and vulnerability) that comes before that violence. As a result, the focus of this show is on the lads themselves, not their actions. But that violence somehow remains real.
Okay, so maybe the quieter moments aren’t quite as strong, and maybe the story has been heard before, but this is a rare example of a young ensemble boiling up filth, fury and family onstage, and representing young, conflicted, working class men with honesty and respect.
An unknown company with a cast of 13 is a tough sell to any venue or festival producer. Those train fares soon add up. The only reason this show is affordable for Pulse is that it was made in education, relatively locally. It’s off to Plymouth Fringe tomorrow. It’s not a flawless work of great art, but I really, really hope it gets a further life.