Marching on Together Old Red Lion Review
It’s 1984 in the West Yorkshire city of Leeds. Bloody brawls, hooliganism and ‘scrapping’ for the home team of Leeds United are prevalent as we step back in time to a period in football culture’s history that is thankfully all but gone in Adam Hughes’ fervent and aggression-filled new play, Marching On Together, which is now showing at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington.
A sense of frustration lingers in the air as we are transported back in time – with the help of a selection of classic 80’s hits – to the corner of a dingy pub complete with Maggie Thatcher dart board adorning the wall. Jobs are few and far between and the miners are on strike, enabling gangs of ruffians to form and fulfil what they believe is their duty to supporting their team.
Macca (Adam Patrick Boakes) plays the lead role of former Service Crew leader and performs with great conviction. Having just been released from a 3-year prison stint for football-related gang violence, he enters the pub expecting to find his old crew just as it was, but is bewildered to discover that his gang leader position has been taken by rich kid Nathan (Alex Southern) and his former gang mate Jono (Jim Mannering) has moved on from the mob way of life, instead focusing on his family.
With a son himself, Jamie, who he hasn’t seen for two and a half years, Macca tries to make amends with his partner Linda (Donna Preston) but when that proves near-impossible due to her unwavering decision to ensure Jamie never gets led down the same path as his father, he instead focuses his attention on mentoring the young and impressionable Tommy (Joshua Garwood) who has recently lost his own father.
Straight away Macca gets himself in another brawl, yet waving his bloodied fist around, boasts to the younger gang members how the fight that got him imprisoned “makes back there look like a tea party.” With resentment at how his personal life is crumbling as well as lack of employment fuelling his passion for hooliganism, Macca quickly resumes his old ways and pushes his family even further away.
With set design by Max Dorey, who provides us with a harsh and uncompromising backdrop of corrugated iron fences concealing the spray-painted words ‘United will never be defeated’, Marching on Together will transport you back to a difficult time in British football culture that many who remember it, might want to forget.
There are strong and authentic performances by all actors, and Marching On Together gives an insight into a world that thankfully isn’t predominant in British football culture today, as well as giving us a glimpse into the mentality of those seeking to fulfill what they believe is a duty to supporting their team. With slight repetition of certain pub scenes, it can become a little arduous to watch at times however, but the overall sense of grit and suggestions of ferocity are almost tangible and makes for great viewing.
Guest Reviewer: Alice Bzowska