Hard-hitting football tale is bang on target

Review by Paul Nelson


NICK Perry's amazing allegory on violence, Arrivederci Millwall, is given an amazing and unmissable production at the Union Theatre in Southwark.

In an extensive programme note, director Graham Elwell charts the origins of Millwall FC and its history of violence, right up to the incidents of about a month or so ago, and this insight into a living club makes a fascinating background to the play.

Realising that this year was World Cup year and the twentieth anniversary of the Falklands War, Elwell decided that a revival of the play could never be more topical and the result is the brilliant evening you see at the Union. Believe me, brilliant it is. I haven't stopped talking about it or recommending it to my entire acquaintance since I saw it.

A group of Millwall fans dedicated to their club and never being beaten, frankly adopt the idea that if the match of the day is lost, the succeeding battle between the opposing fans certainly will not be.

One of the lads, Billy, becomes narrator and takes us on a guided tour of the collective soul of the Millwall fan. Unbeaten, unbowed, even if bloody, their war is waged against opposition from whatever its source, be it opposing spectators or the police. All this is detached, almost an indifference, to any kind of morality. If there is a head, crack it, a bone, break it - anything to get the rush and appease the rising violence felt toward anyone who is in opposition.

When Billy's brother Bobby, a seaman, is involved in the Falklands War and is subsequently killed, Billy is lost, faced with real personal pain for the first time. Moved by feelings he does not understand he lashes out against his own, even his best friend, and cursing fate and everyone he finds his life inexplicably unbearable. Matters are complicated by the wife of his brother, who has given birth to Bobby's posthumous son, and added into the equation is their welfare.

Nonetheless, football is still the paramount consideration and all the frustration and intolerance is channelled into fervent nationalism on the football field. Millwall becomes England, something to fight for, and along with the rest of his generation, forcibly made idle, reckless in the extreme, Billy transfers his unbearable rage and grief along to the World Cup game in Spain.

This play is, as you will have gathered, extremely powerful. It embraces its themes with allegory. In a sequence that is almost a cavalcade of nationalistic fervour the author brings this crucible of boiling and sometimes conflicting passions to a head and the result is an evening of impetuous destruction of property and relationships hand in hand with acceptable boisterousness.

It is a heady turmoil of comedy and the ebullition of misplaced jingoism. Ultimately, as the director and author are at pains to point out, fighting and dying for God and country is as destructive, and as meaningless, as the violence society disapproves of - fighting for your football team.

The evening is intimidating, absorbing and entertaining.

Swept along with and creating this euphoric exuberance is a remarkable cast.

Led by George Russo as Billy they sweep all before them and the evening is one of ceaseless movement, something at which to marvel.

Notable performances come from every member of the cast: Dez Drummond as Cass, Billy's best friend; Ian Rixon as Terry, the meek, rash loser; Steve Gibbs as a genuinely moving elder brother among the many parts he plays; Tyrone Atkins as Kenno, all hidden danger and bonhomie; Grant Davis as Malcolm, the guy who goes along with the crowd and the director himself as Harry Kellerway the unsympathetic parasite.

Arrivederci Millwall presents an argument that is irresistible. It is with certainty that I recommend it.

GUIDE TO PICTURES: Main picture shows: (left to right) Ian Rixon (Terry); Grant Davies (Mal/Man from Leeds); George Rousso (Billy); Des Drummond (Cass); Steve Gibbs (Bobby/Spanish Policeman)
Picture, above right, shows: (left to right) Steve Gibbs (Bobby/Spanish Policeman); Ian Rixon (Terry)

Arrivederci Millwall, a drama by Nick Perry, Directed by Graham Elwell, Settings and lighting by Finnuala McNulty, WITH George Russo (Billy), Dez Drummond (Cass), Steve Gibbs (Bobby), Graham Elwell (Harry Kellerway), Tyrone Atkins (Kenno), Ian Rixon (Terry), Grant Davis (Malcolm). Presented by Sealand Road Theatre Productions at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark SE1. 020 7261 9876.