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Joe Guy

Roy Williams
Soho Theatre
(2007)

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This isn't the first time that Roy Williams has used the medium of football to explore aspects of the Black British experience and also racism, which is constantly bubbling on or near the surface in this play. Where Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads followed the fans, Joe Guy moves one of their idols centre stage.

Joe Boateng is everybody's hero, a soccer star who can score goals. This is a passport to fame, fortune and the kind of bad behaviour that hits the headlines.

Roy Williams 2½ hour comedy follows Joe's journey from a timid, bullied Ghanaian immigrant flipping burgers to obnoxious superstar. At times, it gets close to resembling an action-packed episode of Footballers' Wives but the characterisation is sharper than any soap, especially that of the egomaniacal protagonist, who announces "I am God" and almost believes it.

Williams cleverly introduces us to the Joe at a point near the end of his career, as problems begin to build and a cute journalist gets under his guard. Immediately, the story tracks back ten years from the fast-talking Narcissus to the boy he once was.

From there, his life is built in a series of short, filmic scenes. There are many highlights such as a view of a match day touchline that allows Michael Brogan to give a hilariously believable cameo as Joe's frustrated boss.

As his career develops, the rising star soon tries to forget the girl who believed in him when he was nobody, Syan Blake's Naomi, falling for a self-destructive lifestyle embodied in dizzy bimbo Lauren, played with brainless panache by Pippa Nixon.

Worse is to come, with accusations of rape that appear to be true and can knock the confidence of even this supreme believer in his own myth.

By the end, after meetings with a born again copper, tough female agent, frail father and Naomi, it appears that Joe might finally be learning a little of the humility that will stand him in good stead as his powers wane and he begins life after football.

Abdul Salis impresses as Joe, never more so than in an exhilarating monologue during which, like a comic book superhero, his character transforms from inarticulate wimp to lippy big man. He gets strong support in Femi Elufowoju Jr's stylish, pacy production from those already named and especially Mo Sesay in a series of different character parts.

In Joe Guy, Roy Williams mixes some significant messages with many laughs. The first is that top footballers have a whale of a time behaving badly but like Faust might eventually have to pay for their fifteen minutes (or maybe even years) of fame. Secondly and more seriously, he believes that racism both White/Black and Black/Black is still rife even though society would like to ignore its existence.

On balance, this may be better viewed as a high quality entertainment than a really serious drama but that will help sales and might draw in some new customers to Soho, which is all to the good.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher