Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Theatre review: The Three Lions

When England made an unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 World Cup it was represented by three famous faces: Football kicker and underpant wearer David Beckham, trainee king Prince William, and reptilian demon overlord David Cameron. Actor and playwright William Gaminara saw this unlikely mix of personalities as a classic comic setup, hence The Three Lions, which sees them having to spend a lot of time together in small hotel suites. A double-booking means Cameron (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) is stuck without a room and already grumpy when he arrives in Beckham's (Séan Browne) suite to discuss with him and William (Tom Davey) who will meet with which FIFA official before the vote, and what incentives (which are definitely not the same thing as bribes) they should offer them. Meanwhile Cameron's downtrodden intern Penny (Antonia Kinlay) and a rabidly Anglophile hotel employee (Ravi Aujla) are at their beck* and call.

Gaminara's episodic play follows what's known about the couple of days of bidding at a Swiss hotel, when England's odds of being the host nation seemed to be improving, only for hope to finally be crushed; meanwhile he gives the famous faces increasingly farcical situations to deal with behind closed doors.

Philip Wilson's production makes it very clear where the play's strengths and weaknesses are: It's a mixed bag that feels like it should be something of a disaster, as its story and characters are drawn with the broadest of strokes - Cameron the domineering egomaniac with the overcompensating body language, William the awkward fop, Beckham the simpleton.

What saves it is quite simply that there's a lot of really good jokes that let you gloss over the play's weaknesses. Recurring phone calls from the men's nagging wives Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton and Nick Clegg provide a lot of good value, and a running gag about the Beckhams trying to get invited to the Royal Wedding results in one of the best Posh Spice jokes I've ever heard - done with a lovely bit of misdirection. And while the joke about David Beckham being a bit thick is an obvious one, it's done very well, Browne's timing as he puzzles out the simplest things impeccable.

It's very much Séan Browne's show in general; William and Cameron are drawn very much as caricatures rather than impressions but Browne's resemblance to Beckham is uncanny, paired with a pretty accurate portrayal that got a laugh the second he opened his mouth. The benefit of hindsight has given Gaminara the opportunity for a lot of knowing gags about FIFA corruption and Rebecca Brooks' influence on Cameron, but the play still flounders as it nears the end and descends into an uninspired farce with lots of people swapping trousers. The whole of The Three Lions doesn't really work, but many of its individual parts are good enough to make you forget that for a while.

The Three Lions by William Gaminara is booking until the 2nd of May at the St James Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.


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