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Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England (Susan Elkin reviews)

Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England

Written and performed by Alex Hill

Directed by Sean Turner

Southwark Playhouse, Borough

 Star rating: 4

First, an admission. I am not remotely interested in football or its culture. I loathe crowds and shouting. My spirits drooped when I saw how full (free drinks for invited guests) the Southwark Playhouse bar was when I arrived at Press Night – some people wearing football shirts. By the time I got into the auditorium where the audience chanted as if in a football crowd I was beginning to wonder if I could slip out and go home to listen to some Beethoven with my cat.

Which all goes to show how very wrong one can be. Once Alex Hill’s beautifully written, very funny, one-man play gets going, it’s riveting. And of course it isn’t really about football at all. That’s merely the setting for an exploration of friendship, the alluring danger of toxic masculinity and how one young man, perforce, has to do a lot of growing up.

Billy (Alex Hill) loves playing football with his friend Adam from whom he is inseparable. They go to matches and as they get older, pass through school and meet for chats in a café where Billy meets a young woman who becomes his girlfriend. Then it’s the pub and an older man known as Wine Gum, whose real name turns out to be something much more prosaic, Mass outings to matches, huge quantities of alcohol, drugs and violence, instigated by Wine Gum, gradually drive a rift between Billy and Adam.

Hill, who graduated from Arts Ed only two years ago, is an astonishingly skilled physical actor – tiptoeing round the pool table in the pub, leaping up and down in excitement at matches and at one point picking his way through the audience to a seat because he’s at the theatre with his girlfriend. So creative, and fiercely energetic is he that it’s hard to recall afterwards that we didn’t actually see Adam, Billy’s dad, Daisy and Wine Gum. He’s almost mercurial in the way he switches moods, roles and voices  I once saw Stephen Berkoff live in a one-hander and that is what Alex Hill’s performance reminds me of.

The narrative is a journey which starts and then works back to  the Wembley 2020 Euro Final. (I had to Google it, of course, to find out what actually happened: England beat Germany in the semi-final before losing to Italy in the final which triggered a lot of violence). Billy – high on drugs, booze, adrenaline – does literally do the stupid, attention-seeking thing the play’s title refers to. But at the very end there’s quiet circumspection and it’s searingly moving –  supported by Matt Cater’s rather good lighting design.

Hill looks strained and exhausted – sweat and tears, if not blood – when he takes his well deserved applause. Given the intensity of this show, I suspect it takes him a while to climb out of role.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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