Messi and Ronaldo – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Roger Goldsmith

Director: Stuart Hibbard

The best thing about Messi and Ronaldo is its young actor who brings the story of a 16-year-old boy living in Crystal Palace to life. Kristian Fraser fully inhabits the role of Jamie, caught between a family crisis and a serial killer, but Roger Goldsmith’s script lacks surprises and the staging lacks energy.

Jamie’s parents are about to split up. He can tell things are wrong because his father doesn’t seem interested in talking about football any more. Jamie is a Messi man, but his father is a fan of Ronaldo. They used to watch football, especially the European matches, together on the sofa, their mild banter reinforcing the father/son bond. But now his father is distant, going out for walks in the middle of the night.

Jamie’s mother has switched her shifts at Tesco and now she works later, in an effort, it seems, to avoid her husband in the evenings. She often goes to Wales to look after her sick mother, leaving Jamie to fend for himself. On these weekends he lives off cheese sandwiches.

His only joy is playing football at school. The new sports teacher Miss Simpson takes a shine to Jamie, and ensures that he gets his time on the pitch. Under the previous coach, Jamie spent most of his games on the bench, only allowed on the pitch for the last few minutes of the match when the result was a given. But when a serial killer strikes, it appears that Miss Simpson’s life may be in danger.

It’s not hard to work out who the killer is and, to be fair, Goldsmith has not written a whodunnit, but if the focus is meant to be on the family dynamics of a divorce, then the serial killer story is an unnecessary plot, especially as his capture is strangely passed over. It seems odd that in a play full of detail audience members are meant to work out how the killer is discovered themselves.

It doesn’t help that Stuart Hibbard’s direction is so static. Even though the show is only on for a few days, more thought could have been given to the set which comprises only a park bench and a desk. Fraser tells Jamie’s story well, but Hibbard just has him standing or sitting. There is no energy. Fraser could have been dressed in a football kit, dribbling a ball around the stage or doing the occasional keepie uppie as he narrates the tale. Having Fraser sat down on a park bench for most of the show drains any excitement the play could have, not aided by Pauline Galea’s rudimentary sound design of football commentary.

Football fans will be disappointed, too, as this play has little to do with the beautiful game. Instead, go and see this for Kristian Fraser’s performance. It’s his first time on the London stage, but it certainly won’t be his last.

Runs until 8 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Lacks energy

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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