Writers: John Hickman and Steve Robertson
Director: James Callas Ball
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Football and theatre may seem to be uneasy bedfellows but, in the last few years, we’ve had quite a number of shows about the “Beautiful Game”. As well as The Pass, and Jumpers for Goalposts, Bend it Like Beckham scored in the West End and Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion, first seen at the National Theatre in 2015, is being quickly revived this autumn at The Trafalgar Studios. Deadline Day, the latest football play, while not quite up there in the Premier League, won’t be facing relegation this season.
Up-and-coming player Danny Walters, accompanied by his ambitious agent, Rachel, is in a limousine on his way to London to sign a contract with Chelsea. The only problem is that their driver, old-school Trevor, doesn’t want Danny to leave the unspecified Northern club and has pulled up on the hard shoulder of the motorway to try and convince the young soccer star to stay with United. It’s a Faustian tale with Danny likely to triple his wages with the London club and Mephistophelian Rachel seduces him further with promises of sponsorship deals with Mercedes, Rolex and Adidas.
In spite of Rachel’s claim that “football is a business, and Danny is a commodity”, Victoria Gibson’s performance allows us to see glimmers of responsibility behind the pound signs in the agent’s eyes, and so we are never quite sure where the story is headed. Will Danny, played with just the right amount of sullen innocence by newcomer Tevye Mattheson, heed the advice that Trevor, a wistful Mike Yeaman, doles out and go back up North? With only three fold-up chairs on the stage, the three cast members do well to propel this narrative and it is a wise decision to let the actors roam the stage even though they are meant to be imprisoned in a car.
What makes a success out of football plays such as The Pass is the fact that the game is used to illuminate other issues such as racism, homophobia, and sexism, more familiar themes on stage, perhaps, than the discussion of the offside rule. However, in Deadline Day, writers John Hickman and Steve Robertson have made football the focus of their play.
Set on transfer deadline day, when all clubs have to complete their buying and selling of players, this play explores the consequences of these multimillion-pound deals on both the players and the fans. These ideas make for a good spectator sport and are certainly more gripping than the more traditional aspects of the plot such as Trevor’s backstory.
At only 50 minutes long, Deadline Day is a game of one half with a few minutes of extra time added on for good measure. It could do with another half (or another half-hour) as it would be interesting to follow Danny’s journey a little further and see whether his decision was the right one. Without this deeper reflection, the play, despite its aims, seems a little slight. The balls in Deadline Day don’t quite hit the back of the net.
Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed