Wednesday 24 April 2024

Stage: Pride and also prejudice

Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse for England
written and performed by Alex Hill
director Sean Turner
dramaturg Jake Vithana
sound Sam Baxter • lighting Matt Cater
Southwark Playhouse, Borough • 17.Apr-4.May.24

Expanding on a real event, this one-man show is a high-energy exploration of Britain's lad culture, performed with full-on commitment by writer Alex Hill. Making full use of the stage while interacting with the audience, Hill digs deeply into the allure of belonging to a club, as well as the personal cost of getting caught up in collective beliefs and behaviour. It's a powerful show that's bracingly accurate, blisteringly funny and darkly moving.

Hill is playing Billy, a die-hard 25-year-old football fan from southwest London who has gone viral as #bumflareman for sticking a lit flare in his bare backside after binging on alcohol and cocaine for the entire day before sneaking into Wembley to watch England lose to Italy in the European Cup final in July 2021. Speaking to a radio presenter, Billy is unrepentant about his actions, and goes on to describe his childhood with best pal Adam and their love for football. He also speaks about his relationship with his artistic widower father and his girlfriend Daisy, as well as the thuggish Winegum who runs his firm of football fanatics.

The script is so finely written and performed that it feels like we get to know all of these people along the way, and we can also see through Billy's delusions about each of them as he misreads a wide range of situations and conversations. All of this emerges as Hill bounces around the stage hilariously, throwing witty comments around while winning the audience over with a combination of joyfully exuberant personality and emotions that he keeps just barely beneath the surface.

The stage is fairly simple, with a wall of "Eng-er-land" flags and a couple of boxes that are cleverly used to create a range of locations. Hill gives Billy a kinetic sense of youthful confidence, darting around, downing pints and snorting powder, singing and dancing with abandon, accompanied by clever sound and lighting effects, including that bum-flare moment. He also sidles right into a row of punters to act out the show's most amusing sequence, during which Billy misses a match to attend a performance of Les Miserables with Daisy, having an epiphany in the process.

In each anecdote that Billy recounts with his engaging spark, there is striking insight into the collective hooligan mindset. But what makes the show even more provocative is the way it grapples with the racist and homophobic language these young people throw alongside the punches, never thinking about who might get hurt. It might have been even more resonant if the play addressed these things explicitly, because this vital theme remains between the lines. But as the narrative resolves itself around Billy and Adam's friendship, it becomes intensely haunting, leaving us with a plenty think about.

For information: SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE >

photos by Rah Petherbridge • 22.Apr.24

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