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Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England – Southwark Playhouse Borough, London

Reviewer: Dulcie Godfrey

Writer: Alex Hill

Director: Sean Turner

Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England – it’s a title that speaks for itself. That infamous picture from the 2020 Euros spawns Alex Hill’s brilliant one-man show, an excellently witty script and irresistible performance that explores so much more than just the beautiful game.

Polite, courteous, restrained British theatre etiquette is rightly out the window from the outset of this show. Writer and performer Alex Hill has the audience by the foot-balls (please forgive the pun), after just one round of chanting. Immediately the crowd (no longer just the audience) of Southwark Playhouse are unthinkingly singing along, cheering and jeering while protagonist, 18-year-old Billy necks pints of beer on stage. Billy is football-mad, and with best mate Adam he hasn’t ever missed a match day for their beloved AFC Wimbledon. After years of the same café, pub, game, pub routine, the pair fall in with a different group who show them a whole new level of football support. Billy is swept up into hooliganism with sweet naivety, navigating his first love, a job he hates and a best friend who seems to be slipping away as the antics of the new group get more raucous and thuggish.

‘For England! For St George! For Harry Maguire!’ – it’s not just Alex Hill’s excellent comedic delivery, the authentic, witty and perfectly paced dialogue is the true standout of this production. There are continuous effective gags, moving emotional moments and brilliant depictions of unspoken procedures that dedicated football fans unthinkingly act out without much breath in between. At times the dialogue is beautifully poetic, slipping out of Hill’s mouth like poetry, encompassing the duality of football’s beauty and rugged horribleness in one.

Sean Turner’s direction is most impressive in the production’s seamlessness. Hill carries multiple roles without falling into the typical split personality multi-rolling that can be jarring and tiresome in one-person performances. In 70 minutes, Turner and Hill are able to communicate a huge amount.

There are times when it’s a touch too much – *nudge-nudge-wink-wink* – the frenetic energy can become a bit overbearing; the continuous, often cheap, punch lines a bit tiresome. But at the same time, most of that is forgivable as part of Billy’s mischievous youthful charm.

‘Why did you do it?’ asks the radio presenter, ‘Because I’d had 24 cans of beer, three grams of cocaine and it was funny. It’s the silly sentiment that starts and ends the play. But the difference in the emotional place Alex Hill leaves us in compared to the energetic start – Billy’s realisation and the heart-breaking twist – is an excellent finishing place for profound yet subtle notions on hooliganism, belonging and male friendship.

Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England does exactly what it promises and more, perfect for theatregoers and football die-hards alike.

Runs until 4 May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Witty, hilarious, football focus

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The Reviews Hub - London

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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