Theatre N16, 30 August – 16 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Having spent a lifetime watching Wales failing to qualify, getting fanatical about football was a mystery to me. Wrong shaped balls I’m afraid. Although I’ve always loved a good football film – never passed up an opportunity to shout “Give it to Gordon” at kids playing football. Then I spent time with the Scots Guards and was immersed in total Rangers mania. Mention the C word and you got an hour’s lecture about how superior Rangers were, and how Celtic were, in fact, “a sack of shi*te, Miss” – and that was from the 5-year olds in my Reception class.
Luckily, Deadline Day makes no mention of the offside rule or any other arcane mysteries, and is accessible and entertaining for football pundits and footballphobics alike. Apparently, there are transfer windows for selling and buying players every year and fans get excited and/or livid about the comings and goings and the vast amounts of money changing hands, and Deadline Day deals with events on the last day of the window.
Newcastle United player Danny and his agent Rachel need to get down South for a medical with Chelsea before he signs the new contract, and the airport is closed, so Trevor is hired to drive them. Trevor is a lifelong fan of United, and can’t understand why Danny would want to leave. Especially for Chelsea. Trevor has lots going on in his personal life, and news of Danny’s transfer adds to this pressure causing him to implode, putting Danny’s future in jeopardy. That’s about it plot wise, but writers John Hickman and Steve Robertson have managed to cram the nubs of every possible pub argument about football into just under an hour – players’ salaries, club loyalty, insensitive chairmen and owners, greedy agents, intrusive press, sexism and nostalgia for the good old days, they’re all in there. But instead of being a random parade of clichés, the characters’ arguments about all of this feel natural and authentic. And it’s full of brilliant Northern humour.
Danny isn’t the stereotypical thick ego with boots – he’s a fairly grounded, innocent kid who’s worked his way up through the club and takes care of his family after his father’s death. Tevye Mattheson, in his professional debut, keeps Danny likeable and frustrating in his indecision. His relationship with Rachel is well layered, with the power dynamics shifting as the play progresses. Victoria Gibson impresses as Rachel, full of fire and bravado, but allowing the true affection she feels for Danny to shine through. Mike Yeaman’s passionate performance as Trevor is remarkable, convincing as a lost and hopeless soul, and then spouting misogynistic bile that makes you want to jump up and slap him. The writers wisely counter this with a fantastically powerful speech from Rachel about surviving in the male-dominated world of football.
Set in a car, the actual set is just 3 chairs, but director James Callas Bell has the characters moving around and making eye contact, even sitting on the floor to listen sympathetically to each other’s stories, that amplifies their connection, but doesn’t lose the claustrophobic atmosphere. The action is interrupted by occasional sports broadcasts commenting and speculating on the day’s events that are a lovely contrast to the dark goings on in the car.
I suppose I should end with a host of football clichés, but the only time I take notice of Gary Lineker is in those crisp adverts. I’ll do my best…
Deadline Day is a fantastic, funny and intimate play about the beautiful game that is premiership material. And it’s MUCH more entertaining than watching Chelsea. Get your ticket now.