BWW Review: DEADLINE DAY, Theatre N16
Danny (and definitely not Everton's Ross Barkley) is getting that big move to Chelsea and his agent, Rachel, couldn't be happier. Not so the player himself, as leaving his hometown club is a wrench and "Not even Chelsea's players like Chelsea". Trevor, their driver, has a head full of domestic issues and, a lifelong fan of Danny's club, he is, as they say, conflicted about his work. When Trevor has a mini-meltdown and swerves on to the hard shoulder of the motorway en route to London, everything boils over.
There's a touch of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais in John Hickman and Steve Robertson's script - and not just in the Geordie accents. There are echoes of the classic Porridge episode, The Desperate Hours, in the clashing of cultures, generations and perspectives, all underwritten by a bleak humour, sardonic and bittersweet. Is it a lament for a past not so much sliding through the fingers, but sluicing swiftly down the plughole, as MONEY (and southern sensibilities) drown out the old northern values of community and loyalty? Or is it a celebration, albeit one tinged with a hankering nostalgia, for the new world in which a lad with talent and commitment can make it all the way to the top? About 80:20 is my guess on balance.
Tevye Mattheson's Danny has a naive decency and understandable fear of the new and is never caricatured as a "thick footballer" for easy laughs - it's good to see one of the 21st century's softest targets for satire given plenty of respect. Mike Yeaman channels a bit of Yosser Hughes in his portrayal of Trevor, an everyman going off the rails, as a lifetime of certainties dissolve before his eyes - and he, for once and not for long, fights back. Victoria Gibson does what she can with Rachel, but the role is underwritten and a little one-dimensional compared to that of her client and her would-be nemesis, and the badass rather easily loses the control that marks her personality.
Deadline Day is rare in many ways - a play about sport, contemporary in setting and "working class" in its discourse and values (and seemingly authentic too, with few missteps in language or reference points that I could spot and I can smell middle class writers and actors slumming it at 100 paces). With a little toning down in language, I could see it working in inner city schools as a play to get more disaffected youth engaged with social and historical issues.
If its verisimilitude, and the dark comedy that emerges from it, are the play's strongest suit, its weakest is its unwillingness to push the characters' psychologies into really difficult places, to show the impact of conflict through horribly human dilemmas rather than raised voices. At an hour or so all-through, the play is shorter than its material demands and its resolution is rather quick and neat given the stakes described only minutes earlier.
Eastlake Productions should be congratulated for this bold and largely successful show, ideally suited to the claustrophobic space above The Bedford Arms in Balham. If it's not quite The Likely Lads, well, not much is, and even to prompt memories of Fletcher, Godber and Mr Barrowclough, suggests that there's much to admire in this funny, bitter, but ultimately optimistic play.