On Tour

Gregory Burke
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

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Scottish playwright Gregory Burke announced himself with Gagarin Way, one of the most accomplished debuts in recent years. In so many ways, On Tour is a re-run of that hymn to the modern chancer.

The plot sounds like a joke as three not quite so young men, a Cockney, a Scouser and a Manc(unian) meet up in Europe, ostensibly to attend an England football match.

Jeff Hodley's H (a post-modern Hamlet) is a grafter from Manchester who claims to have a knack of making money, mainly from drug dealing and dodgy tenners. Having been arrested at the station, he meets up with hardnut ex-commando, Daz (Paul Anderson) in a cell and they are soon sharing a couple of lines of coke, carefully hidden in H's underpants.

This long scene of testosterone-led debate shows H to be another Burke polymath, spewing trivia for England. It also demonstrates the way in which football's travelling thugs (not the England team) operate and how they can be used as a cover for those interested in free enterprise.

Burke moves the plot into the second act as H tempts Daz with an unknown scam which will get him the passport that is insurance against a reserve call-up to Iraq.

Lisa Lillywhite's attractive set has hidden depths and after a brief changeover involving four TV screens, we are in a marble-floored luxury hotel room. There Ray, a Liverpudlian travel agent (ticket tout), is introduced.

Now the three men make plans to get rich, based more on mutual distrust than any common goals. Things become a little clearer as we learn that there is to be a mega-sting on a drug dealer that will make any surviving members of our insalubrious trio rich beyond their dreams.

This is reminiscent of another Scottish playwright's recent take on drug dealers, Martin J Taylor's East Coast Chicken Supper, which played on the main stage at the Traverse during this year's Edinburgh Festival. The common feature is a trio of hyped-up junkies wanting to get out with a lot of cash.

The triple-crossing twists can get a little confusing as betrayal suffuses the trio, particularly after a novel twist in the tail.

Like East Coast Chicken Supper, On Tour allows its audience to meet people that they might have preferred to see behind bars. Andrew Schofield is the most convincing in the part of the scared but belligerent Ray.

Director Matt Wilde fails to excise some of the duller sections of a patchy 100 minute piece that, at its best, has many moments of real comedy and insight into the lives of these diverse losers.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher