Twenty years since its first staging at the National Theatre, Roy Williams’s foul-mouthed and vicious portrait of racism in Britain has, miserably, taken on an even more distressing relevance.
It is set in 2000, in a south-west London boozer where a group of regulars and footie fans have gathered to watch the England v Germany World Cup qualifying match. It’s loud, sprawling and full of alcohol-fuelled sing-song. But as the home team starts to lose control of the game, the patriotism twists to uncover a deep-rooted xenophobia buried just underneath.
In this bulldozer revival of the 2019 Chichester Spiegeltent production, which has been rehoused in the Minerva theatre, the King George pub’s doors are open to the audience as punters. A fully functioning bar completes a near perfect replica of a thick-carpeted local. Decorated with chains of plastic England flags, fading bar stools and crackling overhead TVs that screen football and also warp to expose conversations hidden away in the men’s toilets, Joanna Scotcher’s design brings us right to the heart of the match-day uproar.
And what havoc it is – Williams’s script is as hot today as ever. His spread of impressively formed characters reveal a breadth of different reasons for being anti-immigration, racist and unwilling for change. There’s Lawrie (Richard Riddell), who spits hate out freely; landlady Gina (Sian Reese-Williams) who insists she’s not racist but calls the Black friends of her son “bad news”; and the comparatively calm policeman, Lee (Alexander Cobb), who fears for his life after being stabbed by a Black man while on duty. Together, they present a bleak picture.
Carried by a cast of immeasurable talent, there are some spine-tingling performances. Riddell’s Lawrie is ready to snap at any second while Michael Hodgson is spectacularly chilling as Alan, the Enoch Powell-quoting bar frequenter whose calm-voiced hatred is the most fearful of all.
With the 2022 men’s World Cup on the horizon and racism among football fans still rife, Nicole Charles’s production, revived by Joanna Bowman, feels burningly resonant. Fast-paced and timely, this one shoots and scores.