Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

“Gaffer” – Liverpool Echo ****

The beautiful game, it seems, has an ugly side – and not just one that leaves teeth marks.

Writer Chris Chibnall, the former Formby schoolboy behind everything from Broadchurch to Born and Bred, penned his bitter-sweet footballing drama Gaffer more than a decade ago.

And yet, dispiritingly, little appears to have changed, when it comes to football’s attitudes to sex and sexuality at least.

Chibnall’s managers employ coarse, careless sexual imagery on the training ground and in high-decibel half-time rants (George, the gaffer at the centre of this cautionary tale, barks in ‘hairdryer’ fashion at his hapless squad of prima donnas and half-wits), while rather than censure, the play’s terraces roar their approval of players caught indulging in demeaning antics with young female fans.

But in a world of double standards, ‘poofs’ and ‘queers’ are fit only to be burnt at the stake – and one lurid headline can turn you from hero to zero, as the unsuspecting George discovers.

This one-man show is a mountain of a part – or some 20 parts in fact.

Happily, actor Simon Hedger, last seen at the Unity in The Master and Margarita, proves an engaging solo storyteller and he generates the requisite energy on the Astro Turfed sward of stage needed to carry his audience’s attention.

This is particularly true of the first-half, a piece of beautifully structured and scripted storytelling by Chibnall.

Here we meet the cast of characters – the colourful and calamitous – that populate Northbridge Town, a lower division club on its uppers but with an oily, aspirational new chairman and, through the David and Goliath uncertainties of the FA Cup, a chance for a glorious showdown against the mighty LFC and the rise of a new young star striker.

Hedger and director Sam Freeman have the measure of the writer’s narrative pace, and the tension rises sweetly and surely – if more in gently humorous than laugh-out-loud fashion – towards a half-time denouement that turns the tale sharply on its head.

Still, Gaffer really is a game of two halves, with the fall-out from one fleeting moment while “high on bubbles and victory” leading to an all together darker and more depressing place.

28th June 2014 | Written by Catherine Jones | Original Article