THE OLD RED LION, ISLINGTON.
Adam Hughes’ play gives a chilling insight into the pride and savagery of 80s football hooliganism, against the backdrop of the miners’ strike.
Serving three years behind bars for protecting the honour of a football club badge gives you some rights – to respect, at the very least. So believes Macca, the self-appointed general of Leeds FC’s band of travelling thugs, who have spent many a Saturday putting the boot in to rival supporters, and the rest of the week planning tactics.
Football-related violence was one of the uglier spectacles of the 1980s, and in Marching On Together, a new play by Adam Hughes, it’s also linked to the agonies of the miners’ strike.
Adam Patrick Boakes is mesmerising as Macca, who comes out of prison expecting to find the old gang ready and waiting to give him a hero’s welcome. Deluded, touchy and self-pitying, he flares at imagined slights and can’t quite believe old associates like Jono (Jim Mannering) have moved on. The picket lines and their young families, rather than fights, are now uppermost in their thoughts.
Macca has his chance at redemption. There’s a chink in partner Linda’s armour of chilly self-preservation. Donna Preston is superbly aloof but hurt as Linda, who can’t help listening to her man’s pleas, even though she knows he’s incapable of fulfilling his promises.
It’s a shame that long-suffering Linda’s part is rather underwritten. Although this is a play about the lads, there’s so much more that could be revealed about the nature of their relationship, and too many of Linda’s lines involve incredulously repeating Macca’s absurd accusations. A full-on showdown is on the cards, but never materialises.
Macca is dismayed to find his army has been ousted all too easily by a new corps. It’s led by Nathan, the epitome of cocksure youth, played with arrogant assurance by Alex Southern. He’s backed up by Tommy, a young miner who isn’t really cut out for fighting but – like Macca – finds it gives him a purpose and a sense of belonging that’s missing elsewhere. Joshua Garwood here makes an extremely promising professional debut, communicating all Tommy’s innocence, intelligence and essential decency, despite his enthusiasm for laying about him with a metal bar on a Saturday afternoon.
The noise levels in this show are startling, achieved for the most part by bashing the corrugated iron panels that make up much of Max Dorey’s excellently depressing set. George Lumpkin’s sound also channels 1980s aggression, and ties in smoothly with the sharp changes of mood created by Elliot Griggs’ lighting design, with the whole crisply directed and skilfully choreographed by Joshua McTaggart.
This is a stirring and carefully structured play. If it isn’t entirely fulfilling, this may be because its protagonist is caught in such a depressing cycle that we end up back where we started, via the 1985 Bradford City disaster – yet nothing has really changed about Macca, except he’s dropped down the pecking order.
The play also makes rather strained links between the fights engaged in by the miners on the picket lines, and by those on the terraces.
But Marching On Together is packed with quality performances and bursting with the irrepressible energy, swagger and aggression that make you glad you’re not crossing paths with these boys on the way to a game.