I have to confess I’m not really a ‘footy’ fan (wrong shaped ball!), but it does have a rich seam of material from
which to draw upon and writer Robert Farquhar has certainly touched a deep vein of comic material with this
one. I like to research any play I haven’t heard of or seen before, but my usual visit to Wikipedia surprisingly
revealed no results on either play or author, but eventually I discovered he is a Liverpool based playwright and
‘God’s Official’ was the winner of ‘The Spirit of the Fringe’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival. Other than a few
trailers and an interview with the author about a completely different play Google revealed little more than that.
For those not familiar with the story it tells of headstrong ‘Dougie,’ a disgruntled football fan whose team has
been relegated because of a controversial refereeing decision (well two actually!) and who after some drunken
bravado in the pub about kidnapping said ref, then phones his mate and fellow football fanatic, Cliff to inform
him he had ‘only actually gone and done it!’ Cliff is then reluctantly drawn deeper into a situation he only wants
to get out of as quickly as possible, but as you can guess, this can only end badly and if it can go wrong, it does go
wrong, with hilarious results.
One puzzling question did crop up in my research, the three characters were originally named ‘Cliff,’ ‘Degsy’ and
‘Greaves,’ but LBDG altered ‘Degsy’ to ‘Dougie?’ I can only assume ‘Degsy’ to be a pure ‘Scouse’ name and a
decision was made not to set this version on Merseyside or attempt the accent…?
It takes a brave group with a confident and talented pool of comic actors to take on a three hander of this length
and so full marks indeed to LBDG for ‘going for it.’ And boy, did it pay off!
Set wise it couldn’t be simpler, designed by Archie Gemmill and entirely set to blacks with a cyclorama style tab
to rear. Furniture consisted of one chair, cleverly and comically moved and removed with a length of rope from
the wings. All other props and furniture were mimed by the actors.
The clever part of this set was the lighting and lighting effects by Dave Miles. A particularly comic and well-staged
car crash with a splendid red wash over the entire stage, or clever use of spot lighting through the back cloth
(cyc) to signify the dream sequence in the stadium, to name but two of many such effects. Neatly done and cued
Likewise, sound by Tom Davies, or rather sound effects (this was after all, a rare and welcome sortie into the
world of proper projection by actors without mics!) were appropriately clever and complimentary to the lighting
and these too were cued to perfection.
I take my hat off to the three actors for the sheer ability to be able to learn such a repetitive script, it cannot have been
easy. The number of expressions continually repeated were numerous and totally appropriate to the characters. All three
of them brought something extra to the table and their comic timing was top notch. The concentration and relentless
pace was sublime!
Ben Clarke drove this play along as ‘Dougie’ the strong, determined but totally out of control obsessive with a warped
sense of injustice. His brilliant delivery of the various illogical explanations as to his actions for kidnapping the referee,
was absolutely hilarious.
Russell Bennett on the other hand proved an excellent foil as his permanent wrong footed mate, ‘Cliff’ who was trying in
vain to bring some kind of sanity back into the surreal world in which he suddenly found himself. The exchanges
between them were masterful with comic timing of the highest order.
Enter the wonderful hangdog expressions of Rob Taylor as the kidnapped referee ‘Greaves’ and the mix was complete.
Played with almost a nonchalant, laid back manner, with a ‘No it wasn’t a wrong decision, now what are you going to
do?’ attitude, it really worked! If Dougie was ever going to listen to any kind of reason it was always going to be Greaves
rather than Cliff, which eventually came in his sudden and unexpected conversion to a belief in God.
The chemistry between the three of them was palpable and critical to the success of the play and that I put down to, at
least in part, some excellent directing by Carl Russell. Directing a bare stage with a single chair and no props calls for a
great deal of imagination and that was present in spades. Clever and hilarious movement of the chair during the chase
scene, using the back of the chair to represent the car, the lighting effects, the atmosphere created for the church and
the disciplined blocking of the three actors was first class.
A pacey piece of work I find difficult to fault and which was an hilarious evening’s entertainment of the highest order.
Pity it didn’t attract the usual large audiences of an LBDG production, because this was well worth the ticket price and
they have no idea what a delight they missed.
My slight sting in the tail, I must admit I would like to see this done in full ‘Scouse’ mode, as certainly parts of the script
were so obviously written for and so suited to a Liverpudlian speaking cast. But well done to all involved – brilliant!
And thank you Lauren and LBDG for your usual hospitality, always a pleasure to visit the far flung reaches of my district!