Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Theatre review: Lardo

London's fringe theatres seem to have an unofficial, ongoing competition to see who can put the most ambitious set design into a small room above a pub. The Old Red Lion's latest attempt sees designer Max Dorey squeeze in a wrestling ring for Mike Stone's debut play Lardo. His father died in a wrestling ring when he was young but that hasn't put Lardo (Daniel Buckley) off from trying to follow in his footsteps. The scripted, OTT wrestling of the 1970s is making a comeback in Glasgow thanks to a just-about-legal club called Tartan Wrestling Madness, and Lardo wants in. He gets his girlfriend Kelly (Laura Darrall) to film him for YouTube videos challenging the reigning champion Wee Man (Stuart Ryan.) But becoming a local hero is only the start of his problems, as ruthless promoter Stairs (Nick Karimi) is determined to get some real violence into the matches to keep the punters interested.

Stone has come up with a fun script on a subject that's pretty niche nowadays, but Finn Caldwell's production takes it and runs with it, relishing the opportunity to put all the silliness of scripted wrestling onto the stage.

From the opening moments it's obvious the cast are going to happily throw themselves around the stage in the fight scenes (choreographed by Henry Devas) as well as getting the audience into the spirit of things by encouraging cheers and boos, Zoe Hunter's Whiplash Mary in particular getting a lot of fun out of antagonising the audience.

But Caldwell's production is also a detailed one that mines the laughs from the script as well as the physical comedy - there's always something going on in the background, and there's the requisite fish out of water in Cassie (Rebecca Pownall,) a health and safety officer willing to overlook the odd Buckfast bottle getting smashed over the crowd if she can get some alone time with the charming but dangerous Stairs.

With his selection of dazed facial expressions and boundless enthusiasm Buckley is a likeable lead - he needs to be, as his character actually isn't: He may be the popular underdog but Lardo's way too self-absorbed to really care about - even after being separated from Kelly for some time he only says he misses her because he wants to tell her what he's been up to. But although dipping its toe into a darker side of its characters and setting, Lardo remains for the most part a raucous comedy, and one that kept a grin plastered to my face more or less for the duration.

Lardo by Mike Stone is booking until the 29th of March at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval.

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