Twenty years after it was first staged at the National Theatre, Roy Williams’ crude and vicious portrayal of racism in Britain has, miserably, taken on even more distressing relevance.
It takes place in 2000, in a boozer in South West London where a group of regulars and football fans have gathered to watch the World Cup qualifier England v Germany. It’s loud, sprawling, and full of boozy chants. But as the home team begins to lose control of the game, patriotism twists to uncover a deep-rooted xenophobia buried just below.
In this bulldozing revival of the 2019 Chichester Spiegeltent production, which has been relocated to the Minerva Theatre, the doors of the King George pub are thrown open to the public as punters. A fully functional bar completes an almost perfect replica of a thickly carpeted local. Decorated with strings of plastic English flags, faded bar stools and crackling overhead TVs that project football and twist to expose hidden conversations in the men’s toilets, Joanna Scotcher’s design takes us to the heart of the hustle and bustle of the day Match.
And what a havoc it is – Williams’ script is hotter today than ever. Its spread of impressively shaped characters reveals a wide range of different reasons for being anti-immigration, racist, and unwilling to change. There’s Lawrie (Richard Riddell), who freely spits his hatred; landlady Gina (Sian Reese-Williams) who insists she’s not racist but calls her son’s black friends “bad news”; and the relatively calm police officer, Lee (Alexander Cobb), who fears for his life after being stabbed by a black man while on duty. Together, they present a grim picture.
Carried by an immeasurably talented cast, there are breathtaking performances. Riddell’s Lawrie is ready to crack at any moment while Michael Hodgson is spectacularly creepy as Alan, the Enoch Powell-quoting bar regular whose quiet-voiced hate is the scariest of them all.
With the 2022 Men’s World Cup looming on the horizon and racism among football fans ever present, Nicole Charles’ production, revived by Joanna Bowman, is extremely resonant. Quick and timely, this one shoots and scores.