Is it easier to go with the tide than against it? Can one person really make a difference, when they are just one single drop in a vast sea? This really is the crux of the thought-provoking TIFO, another play that does just what the best fringe theatres do: leaves you questioning the opinions you had as you entered the hallowed building. The tide here is racism and the booing of players taking the knee, and our one drop in the sea is Kerry (played by writer Kieran Dee).
Dee’s Kerry isn’t at all what you first assume he will be. In fact, even the opening moments, as he saunters onto the stage, shaven-headed, chomping on a stick of celery before breaking into a rather crude Chelsea football chant about celery, create a well-crafted misdirect, reinforcing your assumption that we’re about to see a typically mindless oaf who calls himself a football fan.
But chant over, Kerry becomes something rather unexpected; thoughtful, slightly shy, and polite. We also hear he is rather good at running away from difficult situations, because as friend Mandy tells him, “You don’t like conflict”. One thing he has previously run away from is family. It is soon clear why, because his father is, or rather was, clearly racist and everything you envisage when you imagine a typical 1980s football hooligan. Following his father’s death Kerry gets drawn back in, eventually finding himself at the England/Croatia football match. Fuelled by drink and drugs and surrounded by family and friends, when the booing happens he can’t help but go with the tide around him and join in. It’s in this one fleeting moment that TIFO pivots entirely around.
What goes on before this moment is about showing us that those who booed don’t all have swastika and love/hate tattoos. Rather, they can seem perfectly ordinary people: at least most of the time. But in the strange surroundings of a braying crowd, the worst, or maybe some would argue the true nature of them comes to the fore. As Kerry puts it, “we work all week suppressing our emotions, then at the weekend for a couple of times we get to let it all out”.
What happens after this defining moment reveals someone trying to come to terms with what they have done; that this single event is one that could define them forever, no matter what else they may have done in their life. It’s this inward examination and battle as Kerry tries to make amends, as he realises he can either be with or against the racists, and that passivism is just implied acceptance, that pushes TIFO into heady thought-provoking territories.
It’s not just this bold approach to a difficult subject that makes the play so watchable. Dee’s script is littered with moments of wonderful hilarity, encouraging us to grow to love his character, and in doing so making his booing all the more shocking. Then there is the introduction of those arguments used to defend the indefensible: quotes from politicians about the knee-taking, his brother’s assertion that the Black Lives Matter movement “started off well-meaning but now it’s just violence”. He builds a picture of why the booing is acceptable in some people’s minds – arguments many of us will have heard used in real life by people we would never call actual racists; people who are taken in by the falsehoods used to justify this contemptible behaviour.
TIFO is a compelling and thought-provoking piece of theatre that is just what fringe theatre should be all about, tackling difficult subjects in new, interesting and challenging ways. And above all else it’s educational: I now know why Chelsea fans sing about celery!
Written by: Kieran Dee
Directed by: Grace Millie
Produced by: Moon Loaf Theatre
TIFO plays at Lion and Unicorn until 5 February. Further information can be found via the below link.