“Gonna tell me next that the game is all about the comfort of social habit and a worldwide need for tribal ritual and worship within the parameters of global capitalism…”
There’s a great sense of fun around the Soho Theatre’s new show, the RSC-commissioned Fit and Proper People by Georgia Fitch: the theatre has been transformed into a miniature football stadium with East and West stands, terrace seating and flashy advertising hoardings; turn up in a football shirt and you’ll get a free drink and there’s even free pies and a prize raffle at half-time. But as Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Right Now’ swells loudly over the PA system and the cast launch into choreographer Spencer Soloman’s stylised slo-mo movement, it soon becomes apparent that whilst there’s a lot of show on display, the content unmistakably leaves a lot to be desired.
Fitch’s meticulously researched play has taken much inspiration from real life events in the world of football and particularly the murky backroom dealings as ethics are increasingly pushed aside in the race to top the league. The rush to secure foreign investors, the sweeping of numerous scandals under the carpet, the exploitation of young players, the experience of women in such a male-dominated industry, the treatment of loyal fans as profit margins are pushed, there’s a plethora of issues which Fitch folds into the narrative but they just meld into a cacophonous mess that whilst brimming with enthusiasm, lacks any sort of clarity.
There’s a baffling decision to have characters finish each other’s sentences throughout the entire play, something which is difficult at the best of times but made multiply worse by the fact that most of the cast are doubling up and so it is rarely clear what is going on or exactly whom is speaking. The central character of Casey, an agent who has returned to her hometown club to try and get them back into the Premier League, is played by Katy Stephens who really does give her all into trying to make sense of the fractured dialogue and the resulting schizophrenic shifts in character, but it is a struggle as she is asked to switch from hard-nosed businesswoman to gang-rape victim to cynical cocktease, and back again, in the blink of an eye.
Indeed that’s what the entire play feels like in the end, a struggle to ascertain exactly what is going on at any given moment, and it becomes increasingly clear that Steve Marmion’s directorial innovations are an attempt to mask the deficiencies in this play. Given the three new plays that formed the RSC’s season of new work at the Hampstead Theatre earlier this year, one does have to wonder about the dramaturgical choices being made when it comes to new writing. There are moments that work here – Steven Hartley’s gruff manager is well-judged and the play’s steadfast loyalty to the fans that pack the terraces week in week out contrasted with the corruption up in the director’s box, but tellingly it’s the names of the real-life scandals flashed up on the screens that packs the most powerful punch. In the end though, no amount of live video work, free pies, willy-waving or Teddy Sheringham in-jokes can make Fit and Proper People fit and proper viewing.