Spiegeltent, Chichester Festival Theatre

Roy Williams grittily hard-hitting 2002 play about racist grooming and knife crime sits very well in a short season Spiegeltent configured as a circular pub by Joanna Scotcher’s set. Within the pub a disparate group meet, ostensibly, to watch the October 7th  2000 football match in which England played West Germany and lost.

Actually, of course, this fine play isn’t about football at all. It’s about racial tension simmering just below – or sometimes discernibly above – the surface. And, although I’ve seen this play before (it has enjoyed a number of revivals in its 17-year history) I had forgotten how it ends and, thanks to a fine, well directed (by Nicole Charles) cast I was swept away in horror by its truthfulness and inevitability. 

I’d was also struck afresh by how skilfully observed the expletive-driven dialogue is. Much of what these characters say to each other is deeply, wincingly offensive but it rings horribly true which is where the real horror lies. The mass-hysterical, quasi-tribal drunken singing as the game hots up is visceral and chilling too.

There’s an excellent performance from Sian Reese-Williams as Gina, the feisty publican strutting about trying to keep order and usually succeeding. She conveys decency and reasonableness and when, in the end, her personal world caves in she ensures that we really do suffer with her. And Michael Hodgson is very good as Alan, who belongs to a fascist party who talks and talks making every ugly words sound hideously plausible. He never shouts and he’s very articulate. We’ve all met him. 

Nothing, tragically, has changed since 2002.

Review by Susan Elkin

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