Why I StucK a Flare Up My Arse for England © Rah Petherbridge

Review of Why I stuck a flair up my arse for England

I am really not a football person. I couldn’t even kick a ball at school, and hardly ever watched any telly football growing up. Yet there was something about the collective energy of the nation in 2021 that got me genuinely excited about the Euros. I remember the feeling of community, of groups of strangers with nothing else in common suddenly coming together and rooting for England to win. I also remember the bad things. Videos on social media of vandalism, the racism that followed England’s missed penalty in the final against Italy, and, distinctively, a picture that went viral of a man sticking a flare up his bottom. Alex Hill’s one-man play takes this image as its starting point in his energetic one-man show which transfers to Southwark Playhouse following a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival last year, and it’s an absolute delight.

Why I StucK a Flare Up My Arse for England © Rah Petherbridge.
Why I StucK a Flare Up My Arse for England. © Rah Petherbridge.

Hill plays Billy, who tells us at the start that he did it because it was ‘fun’, because it would be ‘funny’. He wanted to make people happy. The storytelling uses this moment as a framework, off which he leaps with a story about the people and events in his life that led up to this day. He introduces us to his best friend Adam. The two would watch football together every weekend and were best of buddies. We also learn about the death of his mum. All of this happens in front of Joel Clements’ set, a backdrop of large stitched-together English flags, which brighten up the otherwise black-box theatre space, and acts as the perfect canvas for Billy to tell his story.

Things change though when he meets Winegum, a big, tall ‘built like a brick shit-mansion!’, and his hooligan mates, who take Billy under his wing and introduces him to drugs, which an unenthusiastic Adam declines to join in with. He also plucks up the courage to ask out Daisy, the waitress in the local cafe. There’s a particularly entertaining scene where Hill takes her on a date to a Les Miserables matinee (or as Billy charmingly mispronounces it, a Mar-tee-nee). He’s quite disinterested at first, but is quickly taken by the lights, the music, and the story that he talks us through, mispronouncing most of the names as he goes on. He rushes to his feet at the end of the first half, but something about ‘Javert’s Suicide’ in the second act makes him want to leave. We do find out why, although it is rather subtle.

Hill’s performance is highly physical, as he springs around the stage, necking pints, celebrating the football, and always keeping the audience highly engaged with the storytelling. He has a childlike energy which is infectious, and really gets the audience on side from the off. Under Sean Turner’s direction, he keeps it very pacy, buzzing off the adrenaline, but then slowing down for certain moments to create a real sense of poignancy and loss. The way he effortlessly shifts between these two tonal qualities of the show is quite magical and often catches you off guard in a way that really makes you care for him. In a way, it’s a sort of coming-of-age story, as Billy is caught between wanting to stay a kid who loves hanging out with his mates and watching football, and needing to deal with the consequences of both his actions and of the very adult situations which are happening around him. In a way, you end up with a young man who is actually very lost and lonely. Joining Winegum and his mates gives him a sense of belonging, of being part of a group. He realises that maybe this is actually the reason he does what he does on that eventful day. Yes because it’s funny, but also because he wants community; he wants to belong to something bigger.

We witness Billy go through an incredible amount of growth through the journey of the play, and feel like proud parents when he stands up to Winegum in one of the conclusive scenes. Then there’s the final moment, which really pulls the rug from underneath us.

The storytelling is great. I think the script could do with making some stronger links between each of the elements of Billy’s life and the story. The final moments are incredibly touching, but I’m not fully sure how it sits with the events of the rest of the play, or the central message. It’s apparent that Billy’s distraction by football and his new friends takes his focus away from other aspects of his life, including his girlfriend and whatever’s going on with Adam, but I think the script could push the conflict between these two worlds much further.

What really makes the show is Hill’s rapport with the audience. He has the ability to make you really gut-belly laugh in one moment before shifting this into something much more sensitive. Billy’s world is further brought to life with Sam Baxter’s sound design, whether creating the atmosphere at a football match or the first half of Les Mis. It’s all very clean and crisp.

It’s a really excellent piece of storytelling which, despite not digging as deep as it could, makes for a richly entertaining hour of theatre, with a superb performance from Hill at the heart of it all.

4 Stars

Review by Joseph Dunitz

Booking to 4th May 2024

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