AN EVENING WITH GARY LINEKER
by Arthur Smith and Chris England
This is a play which I had read about when it was first performed professionally, but I had never seen on my wanderings for ACT, or for anywhere else for that matter. The events take place on the evening of the 4th July 1990 in Italy where England are playing Germany in the Semi-Final of the World Cup. Bill and Monica are on holiday in Majorca attempting to rekindle a failing marriage and they intend to watch the match on the hotel television for possibly two reasons – one, Bill is a football fan (he is wearing a football shirt in honour of the occasion) and two, Monica dreams of having an affair with Gary Lineker, but in actual fact has been seeing Dan, a travel writer whose books are published by Bill’s firm and who is a personal friend of Bill.
So there are plots and counterplots, explanations to be forthcoming , new leaves to be turned over and an interesting evening in prospect, not just for the two International football teams and thousands of their supporters but for three unexpected visitors as well who turn up and add their cargo of problems to an already sinking ship – Ian, a colleague of Bill’s, Birgitta, a local German tourist rep who happens to be very attractive; and finally Dan himself as well – five actors with a lot on their plates and two teams with a match to win.
The whole width of the school hall became the stage and I am repeatedly impressed by the way your company continues to use this vast space to suit imaginatively their different needs of each production they undertake. So different from your ancestral home and yet already you have made it your space with all that description entails when considering your multifariously varied requirements. There were entrances and exits US and DSL and R and quite a magnificent balcony to the room SL. SR was an impressive hotel bar area and the room area itself was strategically furnished with typical essential hotel room furnishings – settee and easy chair to match, coffee table and accoutrements, telephone table. freezer, carpet, flowers etc. Plenty of room, ease and comfort and an easily accessible and visible TV for watching the match.
I liked the way Simon, your director, had used the considerable balcony as an integral, much used, important part of the geography of the story. It wasn’t just because it was there – lots of hotels have them in seaside resorts. Simon’s balcony was more special than that. It was somewhere to be on your own to think; to have a special moment with someone when there was no one else around and, at least, two cast members had special somethings to say or work out; it was a good place to look at the view; a great place to share ones thoughts aloud with an imaginary audience when that is a good way to get it off your chest; a place to get sunburnt; or just another place which from time to time can be yours for whatever you choose.
All members of the cast spent time there throughout the play for whatever their particular purpose was and warranted particular praise for how they personally used it. All had moments alone and it was fascinating to read thoughts passing through minds at such times – one could almost read them. Fine examples of actors skilled enough to let characterisations take over their brief sojourns on stage; become real life and ensure the story continues to live throughout and take us. their audience, with it. It’s called good acting.
Pace builds throughout the play as it does through such an important game of football and as the TV is switched off at a particularly crucial psychological moment it only adds to the hair trigger atmosphere already being engendered by the actors. Control of the pace of the story and the game and its effect on the individuals involved and the effect on their lives and the situations they were in, never deviated for one second throughout the evening, and the tight rein kept over it by the cast was a great credit to them and an object lesson to us all, particularly when one realises that in actual fact no one is watching TV at all. Well done.
David Griffiths played Bill, the publishing boss who faces losing his top writer and his wife, as well as contemplating another England defeat. He played the complex role with belief, honesty, enthusiasm and an abiding sense of humour which made us all hope for the legendary happy ending. He deserved it after all, when considering what he was going through in life at home, work and at White Hart Lane, as it was then, with Tottenham Hotspur. Well played.
Esme Mather played his wife Monica, with a depth of feeling and all she wanted was some excitement in a humdrum life. What would have happened had she met Gary Lineker in real life will remain a matter for conjecture. There was so much to read into her characterisation as Monica, even when just there on that balcony not necessarily in conversation, one could almost read what she was thinking. Also, in conversation with the audience – a particular skill.
Mike Jones was Ian who was something of a dysfunctional football hating bore who would rather be doing something more interesting. The character tended to get on other’s nerves and Mike played the role with an exquisite sense of timing and belief which, far from making the role an unsympathetic one, seemed to add depth to his characterisation.
Ian’s German acquaintance Birgitta, the female tourist rep, befriended by them, was played by Siobhan Hancock. She was a flighty young woman who has fun with the English language, who is a serious temptation to the men and whose smile lit up the stage all through the story. She had an in depth knowledge of football and how she reacted to Dan and dealt with him when he found her too much of a challenge to resist, was joyous comedy acting of an enjoyably high natural standard.
Andy Close was Dan, the author of a book called “The Train Spotter” and yet the very antithesis of anyone associated with the hobby. He was also team shirted and breezed through his demanding characterisation with an extremely outgoing high velocity full of lusty vibrancy. His reaction to the result could possibly have been heard in Worsley and he certainly held nothing back in his enjoyment of his role. I did wonder at the frequency of the number of “F words” used. I realise they were probably in the script but necessary in that quantity? Perhaps debatable?
Congratulations to Simon and his cast for a memorable production. Not the easiest of productions to put together, requiring as it does, real sincerely felt feelings to be shown in many different ways and they were. The nature of the story calls for a pace to be there throughout and it was, so well done to all involved on and off stage. Enjoy your summer break. For some “it will be too short a lease” before you have “to strut and fret your hour upon the stage again”. Never mind – remember – “ we are such stuff as dreams are made on”.
Many thanks for your friendly welcome and hospitality. Happy playmaking