Hand Of God (Review)

Hand Of God (Review)

ONSTAGE

With football filling the column inches once again – the Wagatha Christie trial result and the home team reaching a final (and inevitably it’s against Germany) – a play about the grass roots of the game couldn’t be more timely. And in Tectum Theatre’s Hand Of God currently at the Hope Theatre in Islington (a long throw in down the road from the Emirates Stadium) this is exactly what is on offer. Of course, a five-a-side game in Birmingham may not have the same cachet as that of a televised international final but for the people involved it matters just as much, if not more.

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At least it does to Kieron the self-appointed star of his local team who is out to win in order to prove something to himself, to his mates, to his abusive father and ultimately so he can get scouted to find fame and fortune. But the road to success is never easy and when he finds himself dropped from the side he sets up his own breakaway team, the brilliantly named Dyslexia Untied (sic). Unfortunately for Kieron this consists of four local drug dealers and himself – and he just can’t help sampling their wares. This isn’t Roy of the Rovers territory by any means though the sporting story trope of the underdog battling against the odds is well and truly in place. Sam Butters’s script takes us through Kieron’s experiences on the pitch and crucially off but undercuts the expected clichéd conclusion to provide something rather more dramatically satisfying.

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Butters himself also plays Kieron and there’s no denying the energy the actor throws into the experience; there’s vocal intensity, a good deal of physicality and a plentiful supply of fancy footwork, even though the ball itself is not in evidence. Starting out as a rather preening narcissist, the outer layers of the character are gradually stripped away to reveal a mentally and physically abused young man having issues with his mental health and inviting us to have a better understanding of societal pressures. It’s another timely topic but one that has, lately anyway, become in danger of being over examined and left me wondering whether there was anything new or original to say on the subject.

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Hand Of God also follows the current trend for so called “gig theatre”, a high intensity format that I’ve rapidly concluded does little for me as a style. Interwoven through and underpinning what is essentially Butters’ monologue are what I believe are called “the beats” of an onstage DJ Charlie O’Connor who adds further colour and texture to the narrative. O’Connor also acts as a commentator/narrator filling in some gaps in the storyline and helping to delineate the various settings in the audiences’ minds. This may be regarded as an intelligent structuring device or a rather lazy cop-out depending on your point of view. It certainly adds to the noise level in what is a tiny venue and wasn’t one I particularly cared for. And for the majority of the play Butters makes use of a hand held microphone to further give the collective ears an aural assault. Other than to reinforce the gig theatre tag I really couldn’t see the sense of this. I would hope that any actor worth their salt could make themselves audible in a venue with only 40 seats and, indeed, in some later sections of the piece, Butters demonstrated he was more than capable of doing so. Putting the microphone to one side for some quiet reflective passages it became evident what this play could have been had a more subtle approach had been adopted by directors Charlie Derrar and Joseph Siddle. As it is I found the over amplification worked to the detriment of clarity and a headache rapidly started to assert itself.

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Perhaps I’m past shouty in yer face approaches, especially in small black box spaces where the heat levels rise throughout. It was a great idea for the show to loan out hand held fans to the audience and I certainly made extensive use of mine while trying to imagine what conditions must have been like the previous week. And I’ll admit that these musings may have meant I was missing some of the subtler elements of the piece. I can’t fault the energy and commitment – especially of Butters – but I’m afraid like football in general it really wasn’t a show for me. However, the rapturous standing ovation at the end clearly pointed out that I was at odds with the general feeling that several goals had been scored and a trophy had been carried off aloft.  

Hand Of God is at the Hope Theatre, Islington (for just one more performance) – click here

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