Football play The Red Lion originally opened in March 2020 but due to the pandemic, it was cancelled with a few hours to go on press night. However, with the dogged determination of a team qualifying for the World Cup, it has finally started a full run in Bristol Old Vic’s Weston Studio.
The show, written by Patrick Marber and directed by Joe Viney, tells the story of a struggling semi-pro non-league football team. The audience are insiders in the changing room as we watch the arrival of talented young footballer Jordan, who passionate but mean manager Jimmy Kidd hopes will turn around his fortunes.
The final protangonist in this three-man play is former club legend Yates who after an unfortunate event in the past (no spoilers!) is now the team’s kit man.
Both Yates and Kidd are determined to take Jordan under their wing but for very different reasons. For idealistic Yates, it’s to protect him from the dubious, money grabbing individuals involved in the game. One of them is Jimmy, who sees the opportunity to line his own pockets by doing a deal to get Jordan transferred to a professional club.
But Jordan holds a secret that will rip all the relationships apart.
Although we never see any actual football, The Red Lion, appropriately running for around 90 minutes, is an action-packed production. Joe Sims, known for his role in ITV’s Broadchurch, is superb as the sweary, rage-fueled, dodgy-dealing Kidd.
Former Bristol City FC announcer David Lloyd is equally good as Yates, a sad figure whose best days are behind him and but can’t let go of his love of the game.
Playing Jordan in his professional acting debut is Thomas McGee. He responded to an audition call by Joe Sims for undiscovered talent from Bristol and he shines as the young player looking to turn a tough upbringing into a successful football career.
‘A love letter to Bristol’
Joe Sims has described The Red Lion at the Bristol Old Vic as a “love letter to Bristol and the people in it”. He’s not wrong. All three actors were born in the city and there’s the nice touch of adverts for real local businesses around the stage that replicate the scene at an actual footfall stadium. Also, as props are moved around halfway through the production, a BBC Radio Bristol broadcast plays.
By setting the story around football, the play reaches out to audiences who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre. If the brilliant tweets from theatre newbies are anything to go by, that aim is being met.
My first ever play last night, a high bar set! Congrats to the cast & crew of @RedLionBristol for a great opening night, and top directing Ed! Go see it! @JoeSims10 is proper funny mind #bristolboy 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 Good to see @charliecooper11 too, legend!— Richard (@shiftygrifty) February 4, 2022
We loved The Red Lion. After that two year delay, it’s great to see football coming home to Bristol Old Vic!
The Red Lion is at Bristol Old Vic until 19 February.