This is an exceptionally engaging one man tour de force set in the intoxicating context of Northbridge Town, a struggling for recognition Coca-Cola League Division Two football club.
The evening has a rapid pace, is sharp in speech and message. It‘s tough, has a far reaching kick and has no dull moments.
Deka Walmsley plays George the Gaffer, manager /coach of the team, himself having once been the rising young footballing star of bigger/better teams.
George cleverly intersperses the present crises of club, players and home life with quick flashback glimpses from his own football playing past.
A dynamic comic performance by Walmsley vividly creates George and all the main players including Richard , the new chairman with his 100 day improvement plan and Albert the elderly stubborn groundsman – ‘he was here before Noah could swim'. They are on the pitch with Walmsley's incredible timing, inflection and bodywork, a formidable feat which comes off brilliantly. Be prepared, excited football vocabulary is not for the faint hearted!
In the first half we are treated to a great one to one training session with George and Darren Quinn, the talented new teenage signing, soon to make a name in the third round FA Cup tie against the premier league Red Army , Liverpool.
In the second half, flashback again, George enacts a serious pitch injury, inflicted in prejudical hate by a good looking ex team mate playing for an opposing side; this short vignette cleverly develops the theme of the play , British football's last taboo, ‘homophobia'. In the words of George ‘One early bath ruined my career '
The evening closes with George, the dedicated yet rejected gaffer starting again with another team; he turns confidentially to the audience, by this time, his roaring supporters. ‘They've got everything this team ……integrity, passion, teamwork…they don't know how good they are, these women.'
The pitch remains simply stylish, music spot on. We all go home with the words
of the famous football song of northern terraces ringing in our ears. ‘When you walk through the sun…hold your head up high…you'll never walk alone, you'll never walk alone.'
Even if you don't know a lot about or even like football this performance is a beautiful game, very well worth watching and taking to heart.
• Gaffer! by Chris Chibnall, in association with York Theatre Royal, is at Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 30 October. Playing time approx 1hr 50 mins with interval. Box Office: T 0207 620 3494.
• There is a post show discussion on Wednesday 27 October
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