This could be a tricky one. You see I hate sport, and football in particular. I resent how it monopolises the headlines whenever it’s on (and it’s always on) and the intimidating mobs of fans that crowd normal people out of the pubs to howl at televisions. I’m arty-farty to the core of my bones and regard sports fans as the enemy.
So, what the hell am I doing here at a play named after two footballers? Well, the blurb for Messi & Ronaldo says it refracts a father-son relationship through their shared passion for the game, which I thought had potential. Plus there’s something fascinating about the tribalism that segregates society, and which sport seems to epitomise.
Messi & Ronaldo takes the form of a monologue in which Kristian Fraser plays 16-year-old working class schoolboy Jamie. Jamie is getting good grades and doing well in the football team, especially since nice young Miss Simpson arrived and took over coaching duties. Jamie clearly has a bit of a crush on her, and who hasn’t done their best to please a teacher they have the hots for? Just ask my old piano teacher Miss Charles.
As promised, Jamie and his Dad use football as a uniting bond. Rather than having a team in common, they have a friendly rivalry over whose favourite player is best – Jamie’s a Messi fan, while Dad prefers Ronaldo. It’s a convincingly boisterous but loving interaction, and Jamie clearly adores the physical roughhousing aspect to it, which as far as we’re shown is the only affectionate contact between them. Mum is a less distinct figure, her function largely reduced to cooking, as far as Jamie’s concerned – but perhaps that’s just teenagers for you.
But soon there’s a change in the family dynamics. Dad starts to go on mysterious late-night walks, the marriage enters a rocky patch, and worst of all Dad stops caring about football. Suddenly finding himself with nothing to talk to Dad about, Jamie is confused and bereft – what’s going on?
Fraser gives a very winning performance as Jamie: a realistic blend of enthusiasm and bemusement, with the flicker of a nervous smile rarely far from his slightly lopsided lips.
I like one-man shows a lot, but this one is heavily reliant on reported dialogue to tell the story, which is hard to pull off. I kept wondering if the play would work better by expanding the cast so that Dad, Mum and Miss Simpson could have their own voices.
Writer/producer Roger Goldsmith has created a game of two halves (yes, I know the lingo). The premise is authentic and intriguing, the development and resolution of the plot much less so. Look away now to avoid spoilers, but when it turns out that Dad’s abrupt change of personality coincides with his shocking night time activities, the play loses its grip on reality, as its promising start is squandered to melodrama. It’s a shame, and actually rather tasteless, too – male violence to women is too serious to be treated so shallowly.
Do I still hate sport? Let’s just say that I’ve proved I’m open to all sorts of different stories, but I won’t be changing my tribe any time soon.
Written and produced by: Roger Goldsmith
Directed by: Stuart Hibbard
Messi & Ronaldo plays at White Bear Theatre until 8 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.