God’s Official @ the Unity Theatre – Reviewed

Slap bang in the middle of the European Championships, would a play featuring a kidnapped referee prove well-timed or enhance our football fatigue?

Football, it’s a funny old game. Or so they say. Not so for referee David Greaves, the God’s official of the title. The designated man in the middle on the final day of the football season, Greaves makes a decision to disallow a goal, leading to the relegation of Liverpool lads’ Cliff and Degsy’s beloved club.

That fateful decision leads Degsy, a man already on the edge (what with the impending break-up of his relationship), to do something silly: follow through on a drunken post-match crack-pot idea. In this case, he takes it upon himself to kidnap Greaves, and make him admit that it was a goal all along, thus leading to the game having to be replayed and his team staying up after all.

Problem is he hasn’t quite thought things through. Throw into the equation the none-too bright – or keen – best mate Clifford, and while you can’t know quite how this will end, you always know full well it won’t go how Degsy wants or imagines.

Written by Robert Farquhar (whose previous play, Dead Heavy Fantastic, was generally well received last year), God’s Official raises a few laughs and some big questions. The play owes its title to the fact that the stricken ref takes solace in his faith, something which comes into play as Degsy’s grip on reality slackens evermore with each set-back. Farquhar though, stops short of the temptation to draw parallels between those great opiates of the people, football and religion, and we’re never quite sure if this is an opportunity missed.

In much the same way, the play as a whole ducks the big questions it poses; the role of religion in the 21st Century, life’s injustices, and mental health are all given an outing at some stage, and we found ourselves imagining a different, altogether darker play at various points. Instead, each time there is a climb-down, and Farquhar opts to play it safe and go for laughs. This works fine but then why the questions in the first place?

This quibble aside, as long as you accept it for what it is: a meat and potatoes knockabout in the park, you won’t find yourself disappointed by God’s Official. Derek Barr is strong in the role of the unhinged Degsy, particularly when the going gets tough, and he finds himself coming apart at the seams. We’ve all been driven mad by football, but he really takes the cake. And after a shaky start, John McGrellis is superb as the slow but unknowingly wise Clifford. David Kennedy Jones meanwhile, gets his performance as Greaves spot on. Part pious frustration, part fearful resignation, it’s a fine line he’s required to play and he does it well.

Indeed, if the reactions of the rest of the audience (a good turn-out, especially considering it was performed on the same night and at the same time as a European Championships semi-final) can be used for the moment as a barometer, then this play is no less than a success. Laugh out loud moments are regular occurrences, and McGrellis is at one stage subject to a warm round of applause following an outburst borne of frustration at his situation and his mate’s staggering idiocy.

At the play’s denouement, loose ends are tied off and deserts are, pretty much, just. There is also a nice tragicomic aside regarding the match that kicked it all off thrown in. Fittingly, the last word goes to Clifford. He remarks that football and real life exist in separate worlds, and the lines between them shouldn’t be crossed. While getting the point in the context of what has transpired in the previous hour and a half, we still find ourselves checking the time, wondering if Germany and Italy have gone to extra-time.

The final performance for God’s Official is this evening, 8pm at the Unity Theatre £10 (concessions available)

Posted on 30/06/2012 by thedoublenegative