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  • Henry Longstaff

Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England - Old Red Lion Theatre

A home within hooliganism

An england football fan holds a flag behind him

★★★★☆


Fresh off an impressive stint at the Edinburgh Fringe, Alex Hill’s beautifully titled play has passed its medical and transferred to London. Hill’s play dives head first into the contentious world of football fans, the cult-like followings that turn up week in week out to support their team and where so many find a purpose, family and a sense of belonging. Building from the real viral moment that saw an England fan place a lit flare between his cheeks ahead of the 2020 Euros Final between England and Italy, Hill imagines the circumstances that led to the infamous event, weaving a tale of heartbreak, humour and passion.


Working in his dad’s hair salon is not what Billy wanted to do with his life but for now, it’ll do. He can contend with the difficult clients and sweeping up the clippings because the weekends are what makes life worth living. Saturdays are for the football. With his best mate Adam the pair relax into their weekly routine of breakfast at a local cafe, pints at The Crown ahead of the match followed by more pints back at The Crown. The ritualistic rhythm is their outlet and their community but when Billy becomes entangled with a tougher crowd that routine becomes more extreme and inescapable.


Considering this is Alex Hill’s professional stage debut, his performance is nothing short of miraculous. The blistering commitment to the character is relentless, his physicality electric, radiating authenticity and truth - the warm room above the pub no match for his stamina. Initially cheeky and cheerful, Hill navigates the descent into the brutal and unforgiving regime brilliantly, Billy blind to the consequences of his actions and the world outside of his bubble. He ignores his worries, immersing himself deeper into cans of Stella and white powder supplied by his new friends, the pain muted.


Hill’s script not only delivers emotional beats and layered characterisation but equally offers up a witty and hilarious hour of entertainment. Billy on the suggestion of his dad takes his girlfriend to the theatre, a land he is entirely unfamiliar with. He gifts us with his breakdown of Les Misérables, talking us through the scenes involving the bread guy and the one that ends it all by jumping off a bridge. Early Billy Elliot references ensure that those less familiar with the word of football feel at home here too - so, so funny.


The play’s conclusion could have benefitted from a little more breadcrumbing, to remove the slight hairpin in the narrative but in all Hill and team have sculpted a blinding and timely play, where script and performer work seamlessly together to deliver the ultimate one-two. Hill is without doubt one to watch for the future and surely this piece is destined to play for larger crowds.


Running until 30th September - Tickets

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