John Graham Davies
King's Head Theatre
If you're on tenterhooks for the World Cup, you could do worse for a warm-up than Beating Berlusconi. But you don't need a review to tell you that; you can work out from the poster alone that it's pitched at football fans. This review is for everyone else, in whom the idea of the World Cup inspires anything from indifference to nausea, and its advice is this: give Beating Berlusconi a try. It'll surprise you if you let it.
In a nutshell, this one man show is the story of one Liverpool fan's quest to see his team beat AC Milan at the Champions' League final in Istanbul - and to nearly lamp Silvio Berlusconi in the process. But it's as much about how and why he gets there as it is about the match (or the Berlusconi encounter); and the forces driving him Istanbul-wards are personal, political and social as often as they are sporting.
Paul Duckworth is Kenny, our affable EveryScouser; and as well as being a fine comic character actor, Paul Duckworth knows how to play to the crowd, which is invaluable in a play that encourages a certain amount of chanting and heckling. He's got that instant familiarity that turns the show from Theatre into an extended barstool anecdote.
But it's the occasional touching, visceral appearance of his lifetime's worth of emotional baggage - his indignation at the demonisation of his community after Heysel and Hillsborough, the regret he carries after parting on bad terms with a close friend, his estrangement from his father - which, whatever your views on football, will make you root for Kenny to reach Istanbul whatever it costs him.
If you need an antidote to World Cup fever, Beating Berlusconi is not it. Beating Berlusconi is an inoculation. Even if you don't buy into the hype yourself, it might help you understand why the game means so much to so many people. Like most things worth getting excited about, theatre included, it's "a chance to escape all the shite".
Until 4 July
Reviewer: Matt Boothman