views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Marching On Together
The Old Red Lion Theatre
5th February 2015


Adam Patrick Boakes and Donna Preston as Macca and Linda

Photography © Tania van Amse

With its blend of sharp wit, emotionally charged scenes and astute political and social commentary, it's easy to see why Adam Hughes' Marching On Together was shortlisted for the Burbage New Writing Prize 2014 - in fact it was the only British play chosen. This is one of those rare scripts which genuinely leave you hanging onto the characters' every word, and luckily in this case it's been brought to life by an equally starry cast.

Leeds, 1984: grimy, rough and gripped by unemployment. Football hooligan Macca (Adam Patrick Boakes) has been released from prison after serving three years for assault. As he tries to find his feet, he discovers that much has changed. His old 'Service Crew' are no longer interested in football violence, having moved onto other concerns - family, money, the Miners' Strike... Once upon a time they were one of the fiercest football gangs in the country, brutally 'defending' Leeds by clashing with opposing fans, but now a new gang 'The Very Young Team' have taken their place. Unlike his old friends, Macca doesn't have a family to care for. His ex-girlfriend Linda (Donna Preston) doesn't want him to see their son, and she is even less interested in a relationship. He has no chance of finding a job either, but as a builder he's not part of the strikes like his best friend Jono (Jim Mannering). So, he goes back to the only thing that he's ever felt proud of; he joins The Very Young Team of Nathan and Tommy (Alex Southern and Joshua Garwood), although he's almost old enough to be their dad.

Macca is the kind of guy that you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night. He's tough, aggressive, and often cruel. He is a thrill-seeker who enjoys the adrenaline rush you get in a stampede of violence, and he wants to experience it again and again. But he's a complex character with a multitude of emotions and beliefs that Boakes does a brilliant job of portraying. He's certainly not a simple uncaring thug, and as the play moves on you find him more and more relatable. One of the most poignant moments is a scene where Macca plays with his son's Transformers toy. Having been banned (with good reason) from seeing his son for the foreseeable future, he steals the toy from his ex-girlfriend's living room. As he takes the toy out of his pocket and gently caresses it, it's incredibly moving. Similarly, when Macca's eyes flare up in anger you can feel the rage in the room, and when he looks down in despair you share his anguish.

The ensemble of Marching On Together

Photography © Tania van Amse

As the play moves on, Macca starts to question the world of football violence. He can't help but love it, but occasionally he wonders whether things are going a little too far. After initially dismissing The Very Young Team's leader Nathan as a child, he quickly learns that the gang are every bit as fearsome as his own generation's. We progress through frenzied match after frenzied match, eventually leading up to a big and shocking conclusion.

Through Macca's life, the audience is introduced to the wider sociopolitical context of Leeds in the mid 80s. While there is no hiding Margaret Thatcher's role in creating an unstable north (her face is etched onto a dartboard in the corner and the striking miners carry a placard with 'Mein Thatcher' scrawled across), this isn't thrown in your face either. Instead, much of the commentary is more subtle. Macca's social and economic woes could be seen as a representation of the wider problems facing northern England at the time.

Director Joshua McTaggart deserves a special mention for successfully recreating the violence of a 1984 football match and Miners' Strike with a cast of five - no easy task. Max Dorey's set of rusty corrugated iron, piles of rubbish, football scorecards and old pub furniture is aggressively torn down and thrown around the room. Combined with the sound recordings of football matches, it's easy to imagine a large and threatening crowd. Marching On Together is an example of physicality at its best, but it doesn't always make for comfortable viewing. It is, however, the ideal combination of a brilliantly written script, outstanding performances, an engaging set and a storyline you genuinely care about.

Marching On Together opened on 3rd February and runs until 28th February 2015 at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)

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