Fit and Proper People
Soho Theatre in association with the RSC
Fit and Proper People is as ironic as its title. Georgia Fitch's play is a footballing soap opera that contains every cliché in the book.
It is narrated by Casey Layton, a female football agent with a background and personality that those in the know might just associate with the sport's most colourful female, Karren Brady. Katy Stephens gives a convincing performance as a woman on a dual mission.
First, she wants to get rich by helping a Chinese potentate to turn a struggling East London Championship club into Premier League titans.
In addition, the hard-nosed local girl is desperate to sink the career of club manager, Tony Whitechapel, played by Steven Hartley.
Steve Marmion's production for Soho and the RSC might well have been conceived as doing to football what Enron did for big business. Thus, it succeeds as much for the care taken over the presentation as a plot that deliberately seeks to mimic tabloid and soap values.
The theatre has been turned into a microcosmic football arena complete with stands, real grass and dugouts.
This is the setting for an evening of unremitting football skulduggery, with every character conforming to stereotype.
Casey has a history that combines youthful degradation with cruel misfortune that has left her bitter but determined.
Her career as an agent is on a high and somehow does not conflict with her partnership with Chinese oligarch, Frankie Wong. David Yip's acidly cynical character is worth a few hundred million in any currency and, as with so many other nouveau riche gangsters, Premier League success becomes an overriding ambition, though money always talks louder even than soccer glory.
Manager Whitechapel takes sleaze to new peaks, mixing varied but frequent sexual athleticism with tax evasion, but who cares when the man knows how to make a team win?
The fact that the boss's wife is on life support after a suicide attempt induced by his incessant womanising doesn't even give him, or for that matter his star-struck chairman, pause for thought.
This incisive dissection of the football industry is at its most telling as seen through the eyes of three Black players. One, Michel, is an African past his best but still potentially a marketable asset. The second, Billy, is enjoying success and its trappings much too young, flying off the rails as he heads for a date with disaster. The last is a young African prodigy who is promised the earth but, after failing to live up to his promise, is left with the earth to sleep on and nothing else.
Fit and Proper People is a game of two halves, with the energy levels sapping a little after the break, suggesting that the plot does not quite have the legs for a full 90 minutes.
Georgia Fitch has bravely ignored sophistication in her plotting but, in doing so, gives her comic drama a veneer of realism, largely by basing her creation on stories drawn directly from the tabloids.
Football fans will love it, instantly identifying with this light entertainment, just as their overweight representative on stage does in worshipping his own tawdry but talented heroes.
Running until 5th November
Reviewer: Philip Fisher