Ten years on from Liverpool FC winning the Champions League comes this timely revival of a ballsy play.
It’s all nominally pinned on the bizarre anecdote of a working class Reds fan – a cobbler called Mark Radley – who sat next to AC Milan owner (and Prime Minister of Italy at the time) Silvio Berlusconi at the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul.
And Radley was there in the Everyman on the opening night (May 22, 2015) of this short new run. He told me how much he enjoyed it. The audience had a ball too – judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end.
The play is about much more than Liverpool FC pulling off a great sporting comeback on May 25, 2005, beating AC Milan after being three goals down to win the Champions League. It’s a drama that wears its heart on its sleeve regarding politics (firmly Left), tribal rivalries (Man Utd fans are scorned as “the crimson haemorrhoids”), family relationships, love and friendship.
What makes this drama impressive is the way it manages to portray day-to-day human living as being so difficult – and yet funny. Very funny.
The actor Paul Duckworth doesn’t just play Mark Radley with great verve and soul, he also portrays in cameos the man’s pals, his wife, a ‘trolley dolly’ on the flight to Istanbul, Radley’s father, Bill Shankly, Silvio Berlusconi, and (fleetingly) Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby character from Rising Damp. Then he gives us a mime artiste, Stephen Twigg MP, Ian Rush, and a typical ‘Wirral-type’ posh and pretentious guy. It’s all extremely entertaining.
Duckworth (something of an Everyman favourite) has memorised a multi-character script which plays out over nearly two hours for this earthy and passionate one-hander – no mean feat. If his memory was strained at all, I saw no real evidence of that.
The Tories take quite a beating throughout this play which is unashamedly political. Contempt for Maggie Thatcher is freely expressed. I reckon that’s fair enough in the context of a Scouse drama. But it did make me recall a personal experience in Liverpool shortly after the death of Thatcher. Glee was loudly expressed at her death by people standing close to me in a bar. I didn’t like that, didn’t like it at all. I thought it undignified. We should always respect the dead – it’s an important form of respect for human life. As a man of Left persuasion myself, I think that’s very important.
Michael Heseltine is also satirised in the drama (having said that, I think he did his best to help Liverpool), as is local girl Edwina Currie. But, hey, it’s all OK really, and the mockery is delivered with wit and style.
The original script (just a few years old) has been tweaked by actor and writer John G. Davies for these new Everyman performances in order to update certain issues, such as recent developments in the Hillsborough inquests.
It’s when looking at the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters that the play is at its most serious; moving and eloquent, leaving the audience in no doubt about the damage and hurt caused by these events and the media coverage. The “ee aye addio” days of football are well and truly “f***ing over”, we are told.
That’s another thing. There’s no holding back on swearing in this play. The F word occurs a lot; the C word once, with appropriate heft, to highlight disgust at the action of a racist cop during the riots.
And yes, the riots in Liverpool’s Toxteth are featured, plus some of the popular culture of the era (Tom Cruise in Top Gun), and there are lashings of wit, and some reflections on economic hard times in Liverpool.
Overall, Paul Duckworth gives a brilliantly kinetic performance, leaping around the stage at times (he had extra reason to be full of joyous energy after receiving the news only hours earlier that he’d become a grandfather for the first time).
This actor’s done all the Beating Berlusconi! performances to date and made the role his own. Some might also remember him for playing Ringo Starr in the movie about The Beatles’ Hamburg adventures Backbeat (1994), and for his part in the football-themed Reds & Blues: The Ballad of Dixie & Kenny (2010).
And how Mark Radley came to be sat next to Silvio Berlusconi is deftly handled in the play.
Basically, Radley was in despair in the stands of the Atatürk Stadium at half time. The Reds were playing poorly so he wandered off and stumbled into the AC Milan VIP area. Dressed casually among all the corporate suits, Radley sat down, quaffed free Champagne and ate some posh scoff. Then he realised that he was sitting next to Berlusconi, who dubbed Radley as an “Inglese cretino”.
After that, there was a bit of commotion between Radley and Berlusconi as the Reds started to hit the back of the net, resulting in our Liverpool man being ushered away. In the end, he sat with Ian Rush, John Barnes and Steve Heighway.
Playing Radley, Duckworth describes (and portrays) Berlusconi’s face from behind a glass screen as Liverpool emerge from the game as champions. The word is that he looked just like Margaret Thatcher as she was taken away from Downing Street in tears after resigning as Prime Minister.
By Steve Regan