Deep in working class Scotland where you’re a celebrity if Poundland invites you to open their newest store and Buckfast is the drink of choice, bullied Lardo desperately wants a regular spot on The Depot’s “Tartan Wrestling Madness” bill. He has aspired towards this since he was a kid, wanting to live up to his dad who died in the ring. Lardo is also a youtuber, a call centre worker and not coping well with his girlfriend Kelly’s revelation of her pregnancy. Event promoter and producer Gavin Stairs takes a shine to the supposedly fearless, pudgy Lardo and gives him a chance but Stairs is not the sort of person to give anything away for free.
Daniel Buckley plays Lardo as a wide-eyed, immature escapist with pathos and enthusiasm, like a well intentioned but hapless pantomime hero. Nick Karimi’s Stairs is a fitting villain, a failed wrestler refusing to let go of his past glories and grudges. Pushing the limits of health and safety regulations and the boundaries of inspector Cassie (Rebecca Pownall), Stairs wants to bring real violence into the ring. There is an undercurrent of danger in him, foreshadowing a violent end. Zoe Hunter plays Mary (who moonlights as hard as nails Whiplash), a single mother trying to get by and do the right thing. Wrestling director Henry Devas’ choreography captures the theatricality of pro wrestling, which all of the performers embraced eagerly and executed skilfully.
During the wrestling matches in the ring that takes up most of the pub theatre stage, the characters interact directly with the audience and encourage them to cheer, shout and root for their favourite. Part pantomime and part live sporting event, the fights blend these forms of theatre, pulling the audience into a meta-theatricality where actors play characters who play more exaggerated characters in the ring. Just as Lardo, Mary and Stairs transform into a heightened Lardo, Whiplash and Heartbreaker to escape the misery of daily life in their weekly wrestling nights, the audience are pulled out of their reality as people watching a play and become spectators of a wrestling match in Scotland. It is rather like living inside their heads, seeing the otherwise-guarded fantasies instead displayed under the bright lights of a dingy wrestling club. The audience also sees some of the wrestlers’ rehearsals. Like rehearsals for a play, these scenes come across as intimate moments that are a privilege to witness.
This is writer Mike Stone’s first full length play and it is an excellent start. Lardo uses an array of theatrical and cultural influences to expose the inner life of the characters, but more depth would not go amiss in the characters’ real lives and relationships. A couple of jumps forward in time created ambiguity and suspense but additional clarity would be welcome and would not have to reveal the missing action. The characters’ need to escape is one we all can relate to, so the audience willingly plays pretend with the characters.
This is a wonderfully fun play, with genuine belly laughs as well as moments of exposed, raw pain that have the ability to slide the audience along a spectrum of feelings. There is certainly scope to develop these characters more and the play would work well in a larger theatre, where the ring is a separate set element rather than the set itself. This production gives insight into an often-troubled world desperate for a distraction and temporary escape, even if it means risking life and limb to do so.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆
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