After a sell-out run at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion makes it West End debut at Trafalgar studios. A tale of ambition, idealism, and football The Red Lion illustrates that corruption can drip all the way down to the locker room. Set in a quintessential semi-professional football club in North-East England, The Red Lion details the struggle between the brash Machiavellian team manager Kidd (Stephen Tompkinson) and the idealistic club legend Yates (John Bowler) over the new star player Jordan (Dean Bone).

Each of older men attempts to coax Jordan into aligning with them and thereby subscribing to their vision of the purpose of the local football team. For Kidd, the Red Lions are a means to an end for advancement within the league, and a place where lucrative deals can be made through the bending of the rules. Yates however, espouses the importance of loyalty to the club, ignoring rankings, and emphasising its grander purpose of bringing volunteers and the community at large together. A clash of competing visions which is particularly pertinent in today’s society.  

From its set design to its witty script, The Red Lion is authentic, giving the audience an interesting lens from which to look at community dynamics and generational difference. Though not always politically correct, the humorous delivery of the vernacular-laden rapid-fire exchanges that take place between Bowler and Tompkinson serve to highlight the competing visions of their characters. Tompkinson gives an animated performance as the foul mouthed Kidd, regaling the audience with vivid anecdotes about pitch banter, mourning the breakdown of his marriage and manipulating Bone’s Jordan with shark-like intensity. And Yates is sympathetic as yesteryear’s local football star who espouses an unrelenting and somewhat misplaced passion for the club. Bones gives the most nuanced performance beginning the play as the humble Christian “cherubic” star player trying to navigate the advice being given to him by the two older men, whose ambition to play the sport ultimately supersedes everything else.

Despite The Red Lion’s football focus the play is highly accessible for those with limited knowledge of the sport (like myself) and audience members can enjoy what is a heart a battle for the heart and soul of the Red Lion. In his exploration of local football politics, Marber also cleverly inserts darker undertones touching on addiction, mental illness, and broken dreams. With finesse and excellent comedic timing, The Red Lion exposes the cracks in the beautiful game.

The Red Lion is playing at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 2nd December. For more information and tickets, see